The suspected street gang member charged in the shooting death of a high school football star may have been in the country illegally, an immigration official said Saturday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will detain and investigate Pedro Espinoza, 19, for possible deportation once his current murder charge has run its course, agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
Espinoza was released from jail in an assault case the day before the March 2 killing of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr., a standout running back at Los Angeles High School, police said.
Kice said she did not know if ICE had placed an immigration hold on him during that jail term. But she said inmates on such holds are generally released directly into her agency's custody.
ICE takes hundreds of inmates into custody from Southern California prisons and jails each week who are in the country illegally or lost their right to remain in the country after being convicted of a crime, Kice said.
But some deportable inmates escape detection by lying to ICE investigators or local law enforcement officials about their place of birth, she said.
"There could be any number of reasons why an individual was not a subject of an ICE detainer in the past," she said. "It's possible that someone coming into the jail system may have made a false claim about their birthplace."
Kice did not know what prompted ICE to investigate Espinoza during his current incarceration.
Espinoza, a suspected member of a street gang called 18th Street, was charged last week with a single murder count with a special-circumstance allegation that could make him eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors said.
Police are looking for a second suspect.
ICE officials placed their immigration hold late last week on Espinoza, Kice said.
The suspected shooter, who is believed to have been born in Mexico, will be released to her agency's custody "if and when he is released from local custody," she said.
Questions about Espinoza's immigration status were first reported by KTTV-TV.