SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A Salvadoran gang member who escaped from prison in his native country while serving a life sentence for murder was handed over to authorities in El Salvador Wednesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the latest results of stepped up collaborative efforts to locate Salvadoran criminal fugitives in the U.S. and return them to El Salvador to face justice.
Diego Quintanilla, 29, was repatriated to El Salvador on board a charter flight coordinated by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Air Operations Unit. Upon arrival, ERO officers turned the fugitive over to awaiting officers from the Salvadoran national police and Interpol.
Quintanilla, a documented member of the 18th Street Gang in the U.S. and the Mara 18 Gang in El Salvador, was serving a sentence for murder and attempted murder at Cojutepeque prison in Cuscatlan, El Salvador, when he and 36 other Mara 18 Gang members escaped in August 2006. Subsequently, Salvadoran authorities issued an arrest warrant charging Quintanilla with evading capture. He was also the subject of an Interpol Blue Notice.
Quintanilla was taken into custody by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department Aug. 30 during a gang enforcement operation. Following his arrest, Quintanilla was turned over to ICE and the agency placed him in removal proceedings. In October, an immigration judge ordered Quintanilla deported, paving the way for his repatriation. During a pre-removal interview in Los Angeles last month, Salvadoran consular officials confirmed the existence of the outstanding arrest warrant.
"Criminals who seek to escape justice by fleeing to the United States will find no sanctuary in our communities" said John Duncan, ICE Assistant Attaché El Salvador. "As this case makes clear, ICE is working closely with its foreign law enforcement counterparts to promote public safety and hold criminals accountable -- no matter where they commit their crimes."
Officials point to Quintanilla's deportation as yet another benefit of the expanded cooperation between ICE and authorities in El Salvador to identify, arrest and repatriate Salvadoran criminal suspects who flee to the U.S. to avoid justice. ICE officers are working closely with the El Salvadoran Civilian National Police (PNC), the Salvadoran National Interpol Office and Salvadoran Immigration as part of this effort. As a result, in fiscal year 2012, the PNC was able to execute more than 130 criminal arrest warrants immediately upon fugitives' return to El Salvador aboard IAO removal flights. More than a fourth of those arrests involved homicide-related charges.
Since Oct. 1, 2009, ERO has removed more than 500 foreign fugitives from the United States who were being sought in their native countries for serious crimes, including kidnapping, rape and murder. ERO works with ICE's Office of International Affairs, foreign consular offices in the United States, and Interpol to identify foreign fugitives illegally present in the country.