A man and woman were found dead in their overturned vehicle after fleeing federal immigration officers in the Central Valley on Tuesday, police said.
Police in Delano responded to crash in the 3000 block of West Cecil Avenue just before 7 a.m., the department said in a news release. Responding patrol officers found an SUV on its roof and had to call in investigators from the department’s traffic division due to the severity of the damage, police said.
The victims have been identified as Marcelina Garcia Profecto, 33, and Santo Hilario Garcia, 35. Both were both pronounced dead at the scene.
Shortly before the crash, a car that was following them engaged its emergency lights and pulled Profecto and Garcia over. Initially the driver stopped, but the pair fled once they realized they were being approached by ICE agents and not local law enforcement officials, according to Delano police.
The vehicle was traveling at high speeds when it veered onto a dirt shoulder and lost control. Still traveling at a high rate of speed, it then flipped over and slammed into a power pole “a very short time” after it pulled over, a preliminary investigation determined.
The couple is survived by six children, ranging from ages 8 to 18, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez said in an afternoon press conference broadcast by KGET in Bakersfield. He said the parents were “just going out and looking for work…to provide for their six children” when they noticed they were being trailed.
Rodriguez indicated the pair were undocumented. ICE has been sowing fear in the agricultural community — which relies heavily on immigrant labor — and the couple became terrified when they realized what was happening, he said.
“They can’t understand,” Rodriguez said. “They come here to do what nobody else wants to do in this country any longer — work in the fields — and they’re here to make those sacrifices and make that contribution. And yet when they get here, they’re abused, they’re exploited, they’re terrorized, they’re intimidated by the ICE agents.”
Activists have received numerous reports in recent weeks of federal immigration authorities “staking out the roads farmworkers travel to get to work and pulling them over during early morning hours without any lawful basis,” according to Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights at the ACLU of Southern California.
“This incident demonstrates just how dangerous ICE’s unlawful practices are to our communities,” Pasquarella said in a statement. “This horrible tragedy is the direct result of ICE’s inhumane tactics and the fear it provokes in hardworking people who stand to lose everything if they are deported.”
The ICE agents often travel in unmarked vehicles, and those they target only learn of their affiliation after they are approached, questioned or arrested, Pasquarella added.
Rodriguez said he did not believe either Profecto or Garcia had a criminal record and they had simply come to the U.S. to work and provide a better life for their children.
“It’s extremely sad when you see the men and women who work so hard every day to harvest our fruits and vegetables are abused and exploited by our government and by people that don’t value and don’t respect the contributions they’re making here to our county, our area, our state and this county, and providing the labor to make sure we all have food on our tables,” he said.
Delano, an agricultural community in Kern County, sits about 30 miles north of Bakersfield. Police there are continuing to investigate the crash, and no further details were available.