Questions about suspect’s immigration status highlight challenges for law enforcement agencies

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. -- The man accused of the causing the crash that killed Johnson County Sheriff's Department Master Deputy Brad Collins is behind bars.

Immigration officials won't confirm his immigration status, but they have put him on a detainer, which suggests he could face deportation once the manslaughter case is done.

FOX 4 spoke with local law enforcement about immigration policy and how it affects their work.

38-year-old Adrian Espinoza-Florez is facing a manslaughter charge in the crash that killed Deputy Brad Collins during a traffic stop early Sunday.

Immigration confirmed Pablo Serrano-Vitorino was in the U.S. illegally when he went on a crime spree in March. He's charged in Kansas with murdering four men, and he's facing the death penalty in Missouri for allegedly killing a fifth man.

Both those Espinosa-Flores and Serrano-Vitorino had previous brushes with law enforcement in the metro. Between the charges for the two them, there are six people in our area dead in six months.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said, "I think people generally say if the system had worked and that person had not been in our country, then that could've saved those people's lives, and that's a valid position to take."

Howe said the federal government is to blame. Rules changes with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cause problems for officials.

"They change the rules about who is going to be deported, who's not, who's going to get a detainer from ICE, who's not. This ebb and flow, back and forth is a major frustration for local officials."

Howe explained, a local agency arrests someone accused of committing a crime. That person goes to jail, then officers alert ICE. ICE is responsible for letting the local agency know whether or not they'll put a hold on that person.

"A hold basically means ICE indicting to local law enforcement that after you're done with them, we'll take them," Howe said.

The DA said sometimes though, that call doesn't come and that local police and prosecutors are left at the mercy of the feds.

He said, "It's a constant struggle for prosecutors and law enforcement because it's like, 'well, what are you doing?' No one knows from month-to-month sometimes."

Howe said this won't change until ICE comes up with a consistent plan.

"The thing that people want from law enforcement's standpoint and prosecutors is, let's get a system and stick with it so we know what the rules of the game are," Howe explained.