ICE reveals more about Awet Hagos, the man arrested in NC after standoff with police

A man arrested in Gates County last week after an hours-long standoff with law enforcement is being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has gained statewide political attention.

Here’s what we know about Awet Hagos.

Who is Awet Hagos?

Hagos, 32, is a citizen and national of Eritrea, according to ICE. Eritrea is a small country on the coast of Northeast Africa on the Red Sea. The United States supported Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993, but U.S.-Eritrea relations have been strained because of the country’s human rights abuses, among other reasons, according to the State Department.

Why is this getting attention?

Three Republican state leaders — Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is running for governor, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore — wrote a letter to President Joe Biden and federal agencies asking for more information about Hagos, including if he has terrorist ties.

Immigration policy is also a major political issue during this election year, after U.S. immigration authorities have seen an increased number of people entering the country through the southern border. A bipartisan bill is stalled in Congress that would make it harder to seek asylum.

Gates County Sheriff Ray Campbell, who also signed the letter, told local media that the federal government told him Hagos was on a terrorist watch list.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald reported that Hagos was arrested after a four-hour standoff with Gates County sheriff’s deputies after allegedly firing shots outside the Quick Stop convenience store in Eure, where he worked, and allegedly trying to take a deputy’s gun while being arrested.

How long has Hagos been in the U.S.?

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and WAVY-TV, which first covered the police standoff about a week ago, reported that the sheriff said Hagos recently moved to Gates County from Oakland, California, and had been in the state for six months.

An ICE spokesperson told The News & Observer that Hagos “entered the United States as a nonimmigrant in 2016 and violated terms of admission.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection issues nonimmigrant visas to foreign nationals who want to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis, according to the agency, for “tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, study, or other similar reasons.”

When did ICE get involved?

ICE told The N&O in an emailed statement that officers “encountered” Hagos after his Gates County arrest on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, assault on a government official and resisting a public officer.

ICE made a detainer request on Hagos on March 12, but did not answer a question from The N&O about whether he is on the U.S. terrorist watch list. The White House has not responded to a question about whether Hagos is on the watch list.

ICE issues detainer requests to law enforcement agencies that have arrested someone on criminal charges who the agency, it says, “has probable cause to believe are removable non-citizens.”

ICE is empowered to take custody of some immigrants, but courts have ruled that law enforcement agencies have the right to ignore the detainers because they’re requests seeking voluntary compliance.

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