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He was the victim in a car crash; now, he could end up getting deported

A man’s involvement in a minor car crash on Interstate 5 in Tacoma could lead to him getting deported, despite the Washington State Patrol’s policy of not detaining or questioning people based on their immigration status.

An administrative review is underway to determine whether the State Patrol followed its own policies in the case of Armando Chavez Corona, whose car was hit during a multivehicle collision Feb. 9, State Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore said.

“We’re not federal agents and that’s not our role. Our role is to keep our roadways safe,” Moore said Wednesday.

Chavez Corona did not cause the crash, which took place on northbound I-5, just south of 56th Street in Tacoma, Moore said.

But when a trooper did a routine check of the man’s driver’s license, a warning appeared from federal authorities indicating Chavez Corona was a deported felon who had been convicted of a drug charge, according to the patrol.

A trooper then contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to confirm the details of the warning, Moore said. Less than two hours later, ICE agents arrived to take Chavez Corona into custody, according to a timeline provided by the State Patrol.

On Wednesday, ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson said Chavez Corona is in federal custody awaiting deportation.

“Relevant databases indicate Mr. Chavez is a previously deported criminal with an aggravated felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance and a conviction in the U.S. District Court for illegal re-entry,” Richeson wrote in an emailed statement. “He was removed to Mexico on four separate occasions between 1996 to 2000.”

His wife, Grace Chavez, and the couple’s three children spoke to KOMO-TV this week. The Tacoma family expects Chavez Corona to be deported next week.

The State Patrol’s internal policies state the agency will “not stop, detain or interrogate or place an immigration hold on any person solely for the purpose of ascertaining immigration status or in any other way attempt to enforce federal immigration laws.”

Yet Moore said state troopers and dispatchers retain the ability to contact ICE to inquire about a case or to notify federal authorities if they arrest someone for criminal activity who might be in the country illegally.

Moore said a trooper may decide to inquire about an ICE warning to get more information about a person’s criminal history, such as if he or she is likely to have a gun.

Moore said Chavez Corona was never arrested by the patrol or detained for any time beyond what it took to clear the scene of the accident. During that time, ICE agents arrived to take Chavez Corona away, according to the agency’s timeline.

Though the State Patrol did alert immigrations officials of Chavez Corona’s location and involvement in the accident, “It is completely up to ICE whether they would respond or not,” Moore said.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who oversees the State Patrol, recently spoke against troopers and local police acting as “mini-immigration agencies,” saying it could erode trust in local law enforcement and discourage people from reporting crimes.

The State Patrol does not and will not take that approach, Inslee said in late January, “because they want to be able to respond to criminals, which is their job.”

Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Inslee, confirmed Wednesday that a review was underway to ensure the patrol wasn’t violating its policies.

“The governor takes very seriously the need to make sure all residents of Washington feel safe in their interactions with the men and women in our state patrol, particularly given the anxiety that many in our state are feeling right now,” Smith said.

Staff writer Alexis Krell contributed to this report.

Melissa Santos:

360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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