Man Accused of Murdering Woman, 92, Should Have Been Deported, ICE Says
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The rape and murder of a 92-year-old woman in Queens became a flash point in the broader debate over immigration on Tuesday when federal authorities contended that the suspect should not have been in the country.
The officials said the suspect, Reeaz Khan, 21, had beaten up his father during an altercation in November that had resulted in his arrest, leading federal authorities at the time to ask New York City to hand him over for possible deportation.
Instead, he was arrested again on Friday and charged with the murder of the woman, Maria Fuertes.
In a statement issued by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday, officials said Mr. Khan was “an unlawfully present Guyanese national” who had been released “due to New York City’s sanctuary policies.”
The statement has pitted immigration officials from the Trump administration against local authorities in New York City, one of a number of so-called sanctuary cities around the country, where officials have resisted deputizing law enforcement to help federal immigration authorities detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
ICE officials said they had issued what is known as a detainer in November requesting that law enforcement turn over Mr. Khan for possible deportation after he was arrested and charged with attacking his father with a broken coffee cup.
The New York City Police Department disputed the claim on Tuesday, saying that it “did not receive an ICE detainer in regard to this individual” after he had been arrested on Nov. 27, said Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, a department spokeswoman.
On Wednesday, ICE released a copy of the fax transmission form appended to the detainer, which was dated Nov. 27.
Detainers are requests by ICE to hold undocumented immigrants who have been charged or convicted of crimes for 48 hours after their release so that immigration agents can pick them up.
The city’s detainer law and policy mandates that officials turn over to ICE only those who are convicted of violent and serious offenses, and only when ICE has met legal and due process requirements, according to a city official.
Mr. Khan, from Richmond Hill, Queens, was released in November shortly after he was arraigned on charges of assault and criminal possession of a weapon in relation to the altercation with his father.
Mr. Khan’s arrest on Friday came after the police had released surveillance video asking for the public’s assistance in finding a man suspected of attacking Ms. Fuertes, who was found unconscious and partially exposed behind a parked vehicle near her home in South Richmond Hill. Ms. Fuertes, who collected cans around her neighborhood and was described as a beloved figure in her community, later died of her injuries.
Mr. Khan offered conflicting accounts of what transpired on the day of Ms. Fuertes’ murder, Jan. 6, prosecutors said at his arraignment on Friday. According to prosecutors, he initially told detectives that Ms. Fuertes had fallen and he had tried to help her stand up, but then admitted to having sexually assaulted her.
“We mourn with the family of Ms. Fuertes,” said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “If Mr. Khan is convicted, the city will cooperate with federal officials in accordance with local law. It is shameful that the Trump administration is politicizing this tragedy.”
President Trump has repeatedly attacked sanctuary cities — which include New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco — saying that refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to transfer those arrested into the custody of ICE jeopardizes public safety, and that such places have become havens for criminals.
The Trump administration has threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funding for law enforcement programs in New York, and ICE has detained a growing number of undocumented residents there, including around courthouses.
Since his 2016 campaign for president, Mr. Trump has called attention to cases in which people were killed or harmed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities and beyond, including that of Kathryn Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco, and whose alleged murderer was ultimately acquitted.
Mr. Khan is held without bond and is scheduled to appear in court again on Wednesday.
Thomas Decker, field office director for ICE’s enforcement and removal operations, said in the statement issued on Tuesday: “It was a deadly choice to release a man on an active ICE detainer back onto the streets.”
He added: “New York City’s sanctuary policies continue to threaten the safety of all residents of the five boroughs.”
In an interview with the The New York Daily News from the Rikers jail complex, Mr. Khan denied that he would hurt an older woman. “I’m crying about this too,” he said.