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Human Rights Violators
02/23/2009

Salvadoran defense minister charged with immigration violations following ICE investigation

MIAMI - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida announced that Jose Guillermo Garcia, former minister of defense of El Salvador, was charged in a two-count indictment with using a passport procured fraudulently and making a false statement to a federal officer.

According to the indictment, Garcia used an El Salvadoran passport at Miami International Airport on July 7, 2006 in an attempt to enter the United States. Garcia had obtained the passport after falsely telling the government of El Salvador that he had lost his previously issued passport. In fact, however, his prior passport had not been lost, but had been seized by United States immigration authorities.

In addition, the indictment alleges that on the same day, July 7, 2006, he falsely stated to United States immigration authorities at Miami International Airport that he had obtained the second El Salvadoran passport after his attorney had told him that his first passport, which had been seized by U.S. immigration authorities, had been lost by authorities. According to Garcia, his attorney had told him that because federal authorities had lost the passport they had seized from him, it was permissible for him to obtain a new passport to travel to El Salvador. The indictment alleges that the defendant knew this statement was false.

If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for using a passport procured by false statement, and five years in prison for making a materially false statement to a federal officer.

Garcia was El Salvador's defense minister between 1979 and 1983. In 2002, he and another former general lost a $54 million judgment in a lawsuit filed by victims who were tortured by El Salvador's security forces during a civil war.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Axelrod and Adam Fels.