Jose Mardoqueo Ortiz Morales had been living in the U.S. since 1988, until an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations revealed his former membership in a Guatemalan army unit that carried out the 1982 Dos Erres massacre of more than 200 unarmed villagers, including women and children. Ortiz Morales, the fifth participant in the Dos Erres massacre living in the U.S. to be targeted by ICE for enforcement action, pleaded guilty to lying on his naturalization application, was removed by ICE and turned over to Guatemalan authorities in May 2021.
Individuals like Ortiz Morales attempt to evade justice in their home countries by living secret lives in the United States, and concealing their past participation in war crimes and human rights abuses when applying for legal status in the U.S.
Many of these cases come to light after an investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) field offices and the HSI-led Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) located in Washington, D.C.
Cases include Rwandan citizen Beatrice Munyenyezi, who entered the U.S. in March 1998, after making false statements to obtain status, adjusted her status to lawful permanent resident in 2001 and in 2003, became a naturalized U.S. citizen. HSI Boston special agents spent more than six years investigating Munyenyezi, traveling to Rwanda nine times to identify and interview witnesses about her role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which she participated, aided and abetted in the persecution and murder of Tutsi people. In 2010, she was arrested for unlawful procurement of U.S. citizenship, and in April 2021, after serving her sentence in federal prison, ICE removed her and turned her over to Rwandan law enforcement officials.
Over the years, HSI investigations supported by the HRVWCC have uncovered individuals living in the United States who have participated in war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing, torture, extrajudicial killings and various other human rights violations in 95 countries around the world, to include Colombia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Liberia, Peru, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and even Nazi Germany.
Following an investigation by HSI’s Nashville Special Agent in Charge Office in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section, in February 2021 ICE removed Friedrich Karl Berger, who participated in Nazi-sponsored persecution while serving in 1945 as an armed guard of concentration camp prisoners in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp system.
The HRVWCC began as a pilot project in April 2008, bringing together a select group of special agents, attorneys, criminal research specialists and historians to work collaboratively on complex and lengthy investigations. The center was formally recognized as a permanent ICE entity in October 2009.
In recent years, the HRVWCC has supported investigations and helped remove individuals who served in military units responsible for the July 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, including Ilija Josipovic, who was prosecuted for using fraudulent documents to hide his past and ultimately removed by ICE in 2017, and Milan Trisic, who was convicted of lying to obtain lawful permanent resident status and removed by ICE in 2019.
The HRVWCC is committed to identifying, investigating, prosecuting and removing human rights abusers and war criminals who enter the United States, and to ensuring that the U.S. does not provide safe haven to anyone attempting to evade justice and hide in the U.S., regardless of the amount of time that has passed or the distance they have traveled.
In addition to criminal cases, the HRVWCC coordinates with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations’ (ERO) National Fugitive Operations Program and Office of the Principal Legal Advisor to locate immigration fugitives with known or suspected participation in human rights violations and war crimes. The most recent operation led to the arrest of 21 in December 2020.
HSI has also committed to participating in the global fight against female genital mutilation. In January 2021, a Texas woman was indicted for transporting a minor to a foreign country for that purpose, following a joint investigation with the FBI. Through Operation Limelight USA, HSI and the HRVWCC partner with the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, non-governmental organizations and others to educate passengers flying to or from countries at high risk for female genital mutilation, offering informational brochures and identifying potential victims and violators.
Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 77,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 343 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.
Since 2003, ICE has removed 1,070 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States, preventing sanctuary for those who have engaged in war crimes, genocide, torture or other serious human rights abuses.
Currently, HSI has more than 170 active criminal investigations into suspected human rights violators and in partnership with ERO and OPLA, ICE is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries.