VENTURA (CBSLA/AP) – An illegal immigrant wanted on child abuse charges in Ventura County was released from custody in January despite an ICE hold, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions noted Wednesday while announcing a lawsuit against California for its sanctuary state policies.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Wednesday that it was searching for 34-year-old Jose Vaca of Moorpark for charges of sexually abusing a 13-year-old.

In June 2016, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Vaca on charges of continual sexual abuse of a minor. Investigators learned that he had likely fled to Mexico. He was on the loose for 18 months.

However, on Jan. 1, 2018, Vaca was found in Ventura County and arrested on a $100,000 warrant, the sheriff’s department reports.

He was booked into jail, but released on bail the following day, Jan. 2, despite the fact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had previously issued an immigration hold for Baca.

capture16 AG Sessions Brings Attention To Ventura Child Sex Abuse Suspect Released From Jail Despite ICE Hold

Jose Vaca. (VCSD)

According to the sheriff’s department, deputies did not notify ICE that Baca was in custody because of SB 54 – the sanctuary state bill – which had taken effect the same day of his arrest, Jan. 1.

“For example, in January, Ventura County declined a request from ICE to hold an alien Ventura had arrested for continuous sexual abuse of a child,” Sessions noted Wednesday when he addressed the annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day Convention in Sacramento. “Instead of being removed from this country, he was released back into the community, and now our federal law enforcement will need to find him and arrest him wherever he may be.”

Under SB 54, local jurisdictions are barred from asking people about their immigration status or participating in immigration enforcement activities. Jail officials are only allowed to transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities if they have been convicted of certain crimes.

Vaca was ordered to appear in court on Jan. 19, but he never showed. He remains at large. Investigators believe he may have again fled to Mexico, VCSD reports. Deputies believe the victim in the case is safe. She has moved to another state and is living with family there.

“In this case, because he had not seen a judge yet, it didn’t comply with all of the criteria that we needed,” Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Eric Buschow told CBS2 News Wednesday. “And so, we did not contact ICE, and he was released on bond.”

“We don’t want people to be afraid to report crimes and things like that, and so, there’s a balance there that has to take place,” Buschow added.

On Wednesday, Sessions said that the Justice Department is suing California because state laws are preventing federal immigration agents from doing their jobs.

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Sessions claimed several California’s laws are unconstitutional and a “plain violation of common sense.”

Sessions strongly criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for her recent unusual public warning that an operation by federal immigration officers was imminent. He claims 800 “wanted criminals” eluded arrests as a result.

“How dare you?” Sessions said of Schaaf. “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?”

The Justice Department is suing the state of California, Governor Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra for interfering with federal immigration activities. The lawsuit asks the court to prevent California from implementing three state laws, Senate Bill 54, Assembly Bill 450 and Assembly Bill 103.

The lawsuit claims these state laws are preempted by federal law and violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

Addressing reporters later Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown denounced Sessions’ statements, saying it was unprecedented for Sessions to “act more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer.”

“What Jeff Sessions said is simply not true and I call upon him to apologize to the people of California for bringing the mendacity of Washington to California,” Brown told reporters.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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