SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Two Salvadoran criminal fugitives recently captured in northern California – one wanted for murder, the other for weapons trafficking – were handed over to authorities in their native country 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.
Josue Alfredo Melendez-Martinez, 34, and Manuel De Jesus Serpas Hernandez, 34, were repatriated to El Salvador on board a charter flight coordinated by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Air Operations (IAO) Unit. Upon arrival, ERO officers turned the suspects over to awaiting officials from the El Salvadoran Civilian National Police (PNC). The two former fugitives were both located following encounters with local law enforcement authorities in northern California.
Melendez-Martinez is wanted on a criminal warrant issued in 2006 in El Salvador for trafficking and possession of firearms. The documented member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) gang is also facing charges in his native country for his alleged involvement in the killing of a police officer. ERO took Melendez-Martinez into custody in August after receiving a lead from Stanislaus County probation officers. He was detained by ERO and ordered deported by an immigration judge Aug. 28.
The second fugitive, Serpas Hernandez, is the subject of a Salvadoran criminal warrant charging him with murder and "serious wounding." According to an Interpol Red Notice, the suspect allegedly fatally shot his former girlfriend and seriously wounded her friend following an argument in Usulutan, El Salvador, in 1999. In December 2011, an ERO Los Angeles officer who had been searching for Serpas Hernandez for more than a year discovered he was incarcerated at the San Francisco County Jail on local charges. ERO lodged an immigration hold on Serpas Hernandez and he came into ICE custody in March after serving his sentence for child endangerment. On Aug. 21, an immigration judge ordered Serpas Hernandez deported, paving the way for his repatriation to El Salvador.
"Criminals who seek to escape responsibility for their actions by fleeing to the United States will find no sanctuary in our communities," said Gary Mead, executive associate director of ERO. "As this case makes clear, ICE is working closely with its foreign counterparts to promote public safety and hold criminals accountable – no matter where they commit their crimes."
Officials point to the deportation of the two high-profile criminal fugitives as yet another benefit of the expanded cooperation between ICE and authorities in El Salvador to identify, arrest and repatriate Salvadoran criminal suspects who have fled to the U.S. to avoid prosecution. ICE officers are working closely with the 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.