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April 6, 2023Newark, NJ, United StatesHuman Rights Violators

ICE arrests former Salvadoran Army officer in New Jersey accused in El Mozote massacre case in El Salvador

NEWARK, N.J. — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers, with the assistance of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents, arrested a Salvadoran national on April 4 for assisting or otherwise participating in extrajudicial killings and for willfully misrepresenting this material fact in his immigration application. Roberto Antonio Garay Saravia is a retired military officer from the Salvadoran Armed Forces, who during his active duty was involved in multiple operations, including the El Mozote Massacre, where more than 1,000 civilian adults and children were killed.

“Individuals who have committed atrocities overseas will not find safe haven in the United States,” said Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John K. Tien. “ICE works tirelessly to identify human rights violators and bring them to justice. I commend the agents and officers who carried out this investigation for their commitment to enforcing our immigration laws and protecting our national security.”

“ICE is resolute in our commitment to human rights and the pursuit of justice,” said Tae D. Johnson, ICE deputy director and senior official performing the duties of the director. “No matter how long we must work these cases, we will not rest until individuals who committed egregious acts against humanity are investigated, prosecuted, and when possible, removed from the United States.”

“Individuals involved in heinous actions such as extrajudicial killings will not be permitted to remain in the United States,” said ERO Newark Field Office Director John Tsoukaris. “We will maintain the integrity of our immigration laws and hold accountable those who violate them.”

From 1981 to 1985, Garay Saravia was a section commander in a specialized counterinsurgency unit known as the Atlacatl Battalion, which has been directly implicated in numerous atrocities, to include a December 1981 operation now known as the El Mozote Massacre, in which more than 1,000 civilians — over half of which were children — were killed. Garay Saravia was also deployed in three other operations in the department of Cabañas, La Quesera and El Calabozo that resulted in the massacres of hundreds of noncombatant civilians.

The investigation was initiated and developed by HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). HSI San Salvador and the HRVWCC obtained evidence related to the human rights violations. ICE’s Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) Newark and OPLA Philadelphia will prosecute the case.

In 2008, ICE created the HRVWCC. Led by HSI, the HRVWCC leverages the knowledge and expertise of a select group of special agents, attorneys, intelligence analysts, criminal research specialists and historians. These experts work collaboratively to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven for individuals who engage in the commission of war crimes, genocide, torture and other forms of serious human rights violations from conflicts around the globe. The HRVWCC is the only U.S. Government entity focused entirely on investigating these global atrocities. Currently, HSI has more than 160 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 78,000 lookouts and stopped over 350 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.

ERO officers make enforcement decisions on a case-by-case basis in a professional and responsible manner, informed by their experience as law enforcement officials and in a way that best protects against the greatest threats to the homeland and the integrity of U.S. immigration laws.

In fiscal year 2022, ERO arrested 46,396 noncitizens with criminal histories. This group had 198,498 associated charges and convictions, including 21,531 assault offenses; 8,164 sex and sexual assault offenses; 5,554 weapons offenses; 1,501 homicide-related offenses; and 1,114 kidnapping offenses.

Learn more about ERO’s mission to preserve public safety on Twitter at @ERONewark.

Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses, war crimes or other criminal activity are urged to call the HSI tip line at 866-DHS-2423 (866-347-2423). Callers may remain anonymous.