SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A Salvadoran national captured recently in Santa Clara County who is wanted in his native country for his role in two murders was handed over to authorities in El Salvador Wednesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the latest result of stepped up collaborative efforts to locate Salvadoran criminal fugitives in the U.S. and return them to El Salvador to face justice.
Santos Lopez-Claudio, aka Wilber Alfredo Valle-Guerra, 36, was repatriated on board a charter flight coordinated by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Air Operations (IAO) Unit. Upon arrival, ERO officers turned the suspect over to officials from the El Salvadoran Civilian National Police (PNC).
A criminal warrant issued in 2007 in El Salvador charges Valle-Guerra with two counts of aggravated homicide and three counts of attempted aggravated homicide. When questioned by ERO officers, Lopez admitted his true name is Wilber Alfredo Valle-Guerra. Salvadoran authorities allege Valle-Guerra was among three Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members involved in the fatal shootings that occurred Nov. 14, 2006, in Salvadoran community of Ilobasco, Cabañas. One of those killed in the melee was the head of Ilobasco's City Hall Police, Jose Manuel Alfaro Ordonez. In addition to the homicide warrant, Valle-Guerra is charged in a Salvadoran criminal warrant issued in 2003 with firearms violations.
Lopez was taken into custody Nov. 7, 2012, by ERO officers at his residence in Sunnyvale, Calif. Since he had been previously deported in 2006, ERO sought to reinstate his prior removal order.
On Feb. 25, an immigration judge in San Francisco found that Lopez did not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S. and reinstated his past removal order, paving the way for this week's repatriation.
"Criminals who seek to escape responsibility for their actions by fleeing to the United States will find no sanctuary in our communities," said Timothy Aitken, field office director for ERO San Francisco. "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 fugitive murder suspect as yet another benefit of the expanded binational cooperation 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. In the first six months of fiscal year 2013, the PNC executed more than 80 criminal arrest warrants immediately upon fugitives' return to El Salvador aboard IAO removal flights. Many of those arrests involved homicide-related charges or other violent crimes.
Since Oct. 1, 2009, ERO has removed more than 566 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.