Chicago police, Lightfoot defend decision not to cooperate with ICE after DHS says man accused in McDonald's child sex assault was previously deported

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The man accused of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl inside a bathroom of McDonald's flagship restaurant in River North had previously been deported, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said. Chicago officials responded Friday, standing by their decision not to cooperate with ICE on immigration-related business.

Christopher Puente, 34, of Chicago, is currently being held without bail after being charged with predatory criminal sexual assault in connection with an alleged attack on a child in the former Rock N Roll McDonald's on Clark Street earlier this month.

RELATED: No bond for Chicago man charged in sexual assault of girl, 3, at River North McDonald's

ICE said in a news release Thursday Puente was placed into Chicago police custody in June of 2019 after he was arrested for theft. According to ICE, Chicago police were expected to hold Puente until he could be taken into their custody, as Puente was expected to be deported.

However, at some point Puente was released prior to the alleged incident at the River North McDonald's, ICE said.

Both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago police defended their decision not to cooperate with ICE on any immigration-related business Friday.

"The Chicago Police Department remains committed to protecting all Chicago residents regardless of their immigration status," Chicago police said in a statement. "Our pledge to restrict ICE access to our information systems and our refusal to cooperate with ICE immigration enforcement measures has not changed."

Lightfoot said "if ICE is complaining, then they should do their job better."

"They're critical because we have said very clearly we are a welcoming city, a sanctuary city. Chicago Police Department will not cooperate with ICE on any immigration-related business," she said. "And that's affected their ability to conduct immigration raids across the city. But that's exactly our intention. We have to make sure our police department is seen as a legitimate force in all our communities."

She added that the city has other federal partnerships that function well, but maintained that those relationships must be conducted in a way consistent with the city's values.

Puente has been previously convicted of burglary, forgery, trespassing, domestic battery and related offenses and has a record dating back 20 years.

On Dec. 5, 2014, Puente was deported to Mexico, pursuant to an administrative removal order as he is a convicted aggravated felon due to his previous felony burglary conviction, ICE said. Five days later, on Dec. 10, 2014, border agents encountered Puente at the Brownsville, Texas, border crossing. Puente claimed to be a U.S. citizen and presented a birth certificate. Puente was subsequently charged with falsely claiming citizenship and served a notice to appear before an immigration judge, according to ICE. On March 30, 2017, an immigration judge ordered Puente removed, in absentia, as he failed to show up for his immigration hearing.

Puente was assisted by a sign-language interpreter in court Feb. 20. He listened to prosecutors as they detailed his alleged acts perpetrated after the little girl's father says he took his son and daughter to the men's bathroom, taking the boy into a stall with him, and leaving her outside.

According to prosecutors, Puente motioned for the girl to enter his stall, when she did so, the defendant closed the stall and locked it. Puente said that he had the victim by the back of the head, covered mouth, and told her "shhhh."

Prosecutors said the girl's father heard his daughter's cries and desperately tried to open the locked stall. He could see her feet dangling off the ground, so he grabbed her legs and pulled her out from under the stall. He ran out of the bathroom with her, leaving Puente inside the bathroom.

The girl was hospitalized after the alleged rape.

Surveillance pictures of Puente exiting the bathroom were circulated by police prior to his arrest.

Prosecutors said Puente was being investigated for trespassing when police recognized him from the surveillance pictures because he was wearing the same clothes he had on following the alleged attack.

After he was arrested, Puente confessed some of what he had done and described his actions to authorities.

"(Puente) said ... what happened with the little girl was 'wrong and a very bad thing,'" Assistant State Attorney James Murphy said.

On Feb. 20, ICE again requested Chicago police hold Puente ahead of a possible deportation, officials said.
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