Wife of undocumented immigrant arrested while gardening slams ICE's rationale

iStock/Thinkstock(NAPA COUNTY, Calif.) — The devastated wife of an undocumented immigrant whom federal authorities arrested this weekend condemned U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today, saying the agency misrepresented her husband’s criminal past to justify his detention as an example to others here illegally.

Armando Nunez-Salgado, 39, was among the 150 people ICE said it arrested Sunday, nabbing him in his Napa County, California, backyard as he gardened. His wife, Helena Ponce, captured the arrest on video.

“With everything going on in the news, we knew that he fits the description of people the ICE should be picking up,” Ponce told ABC News, referring to her husband’s illegal status and criminal record. “He always felt like they would come and get him eventually.”

But Ponce argued that her husband hasn’t been in legal trouble for years, that he has been encouraging young people to avoid gang life and that he has been a devoted father to their 14-year-old daughter.

Nunez-Salgado immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was 4 years old, according to his family.

Ponce said she noticed some unfamiliar cars parked in front of their house over the weekend before ICE agents walked up to their house, blocked the door and went around the back of the house where Nunez-Salgado was working.

ICE did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment but according to a statement the agency issued Tuesday, Nunez-Salgado has accumulated criminal convictions in California that resulted in over 15 years of sentencing in the past 18 years.

“His criminal convictions include assault with a deadly weapon (statutorily enhanced because of his gang member status), burglary, hit-and-run causing injury and evading a peace officer,” ICE said in the statement.

It added: “This operation is a continuation of ICE’s efforts to prioritize enforcement against public safety threats.”

Ponce disputed some of the details, however. Nunez-Salgado has not been to prison for more than 15 years and has been a model citizen in their Napa community with their daughter, she contended.

Ponce said she believes ICE is using her husband’s arrest as a means to scare other undocumented immigrants in their community.

In the ICE statement, Nunez-Salgado is the only detainee mentioned by name. The statement also says ICE has deported Nunez-Salgado to Mexico four times and that he was a gang member.

His wife conceded that Nunez-Salgado has been deported a “few times,” she told ABC News, but he hasn’t been involved in gang activities for years and has been working in the community to deter others from getting involved.

The family is working with the North Bay Organizing Project to help find Nunez-Salgado a lawyer, Ponce said.

The organization did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Nunez-Salgado is in a federal holding facility with other detained undocumented immigrants, Ponce said, adding that he told her the facility is severally crowded.

“There are just a lot of people in there,” Ponce said. “Pregnant women are in there. It’s just awful.”

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