The Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Tom Homan has confirmed that a man arrested on suspicion of having commiting acts of arson in the Sonoma County wine district of California is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Jesus Fabian Gonzalez has been twice deported to Mexico. In addition, Gonzalez has been the subject of at least five detainer requests by ICE over the last year. The most recent detainer request, in which ICE asks a local jurisdiction to keep a suspect illegal alien in custody long enough to be picked up by immigration officer, was on the suspcion of commiting arson.

According to Homan, all of the arrests were made “by Sonoma County on various felony and misdemeanor charges.” Sonoma County is considered a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, and thus does not fully cooperate with federal immigration agencies. Sonoma County, and other jurisdictions, does not honr detainer requests from ICE. In a statement regarding Gonzalez, Homan said, "ICE was never notified of Mr. Gonzalez’ various releases.” 

While there were several devastating fires across California's wine country, it is not yet clear what role if any Gonzalez played in allegedly setting fires. Homan’s statement once again put into focus the ongoing clash of federal immigration authorities with local jurisdictions that have assumed sanctuary status.: 

"Once again, a non-cooperative jurisdiction has left their community vulnerable to dangerous individuals and preventable crimes. ICE lodged a detainer against Jesus Gonzalez with Sonoma County jail officials on October 16, following his arrest on felony charges for maliciously setting fire to a property. This is especially troubling in light of the massive wildfires already devastating the region.

"Over the past year, ICE has lodged detainers against Mr. Gonzalez after four separate arrests by Sonoma County on various felony and misdemeanor charges. ICE was never notified of Mr. Gonzalez’ various releases. Additionally, Mr. Gonzales has been returned to his home country of Mexico on two separate occasions.

"The residents of Sonoma County, and the state of California, deserve better than policies that expose them to avoidable dangers. Non-cooperation policies – now enshrined in California state law – ensure only one thing: criminals who would otherwise be deported will be released and left free to reoffend as they please."

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently signed a bill into law that makes California a sanctuary state.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano told a press conference on Tuesday, “There is a story out there that he’s the arsonist in these fires." Speaking in reference to an initial report on Gonzalez by Breitbart News, Sheriff Giordano said, “That’s not the case. There’s no indication he’s related to these fires at all. ... I wanted to kill that speculation right now, so we didn’t have things running too far out of control.”

The 29-year-old homeless Gonzalez was arrested on Sunday at Maxwell Farms Regional Park. Gonzalez, who was "known to deputies," had started a fire to keep warm, Giordano said. A frequent denizen of the park, Gonzalez was observed by officers "walking away from a small fire" on Sunday afternoon and carrying a fire extinguisher and lighter. When deputies "asked him if he started the fire," Giordano said, "he said he started the fire to warm himself up.” Gonzalez is currently being held in Sonoma County jail on a $100,000 bond.

At least 200,000 acres across the region have gone up in flames, causing approximately $1.04 billion in insured damages, according to California's insurance commissioner. There are reports that at least 5,700 structures have burned, including nearly 3,000 homes. There have been 41 deaths confirmed as resulting from the blazes, while there are more than 100 missing persons. 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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