David Kantun-Vera
David Kantun-Vera (Courtesy of the San Juan County Adult Detention Center)

FARMINGTON — A federal agency is attempting to deport an undocumented immigrant who was acquitted of criminal sexual penetration against a 3-year-old Aztec girl.

David Kantun-Vera, 31, was arrested in February 2012 on suspicion of criminal sexual penetration against the child, who Kantun-Vera was babysitting at her father's home on Light Plant Road in Aztec. In January, Kantun-Vera was found not guilty of lesser charges after a jury trial.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Kantun-Vera while he was still at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center after his trial. He is now being held without bond in El Paso, Texas, pending deportation proceedings, ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said in an email.

Kantun-Vera entered the United States illegally from Mexico, Zamarripa said.

The federal government placed an "ICE hold" on Kantun-Vera after he was arrested, said Mark Curnutt, Kantun-Vera's attorney.

An ICE hold is when the federal immigration agency informs a jail or prison that a person in its custody on state charges is also wanted by the federal government in connection to an immigration case, said Megan Jordi, the legal director for the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

Jordi said if an ICE hold is placed on a person accused of a crime in state court, the federal government will arrest that person after his or her case is finished, regardless of the outcome.

She said the federal government can use its discretion when considering whether or not to move forward with deportation proceedings against a person who was acquitted of criminal charges. But if someone is charged and acquitted of sex crimes against a child, it's likely the federal government will move forward with deportation, she said.

"ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and egregious immigration law violators," Zamarripa said.

She said Kantun-Vera has a hearing in front of an immigration judge on Feb. 20. The judge will ultimately decide whether Kantun-Vera is eligible to remain in the United States, she said.

Tom Havel, the administrator of the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, said the jail will hold inmates who have had an ICE hold placed on them for 72 hours, not including holidays or weekends, as the jail waits for federal law enforcement to take custody of the person.

That rule applies to immigrants who have been acquitted of charges, had their cases dismissed, posted bond or served their sentence, Havel said.

On Tuesday, there were 12 inmates at the detention center with an ICE hold.

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.