LOS ANGELES — A former member of the Guatemalan army whom witnesses say participated in a massacre there three decades ago that claimed at least 162 lives was deported to his native country Tuesday, capping an effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to investigate the case and win the ex-commando's removal from the United States.
Pedro Pimentel Rios, 54, arrived in Guatemala on board an ICE Air Operations charter removal flight and was immediately turned over to Guatemalan law enforcement officials. The Santa Ana, Calif., maintenance worker is wanted in his native country on criminal charges for his role in the Dos Erres massacre.
Guatemalan authorities allege Pimentel Rios was among some 20 members of an elite Guatemalan army unit called the Kaibiles who murdered dozens of men, women and children in the village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982. The Kaibiles had gone to the remote Guatemalan settlement seeking to locate left-wing insurgents allegedly responsible for the ambush of an army convoy nearby that resulted in the theft of more than 20 military rifles. After arriving in the village, the Kaibiles began searching for the missing weapons, forcing the residents from their homes and interrogating them about the stolen guns. No rifles were recovered. The soldiers then proceeded to systematically murder the villagers, beginning with the children.
The victims were bludgeoned with sledgehammers and their bodies thrown into the village's well. Other victims were shot or strangled and many of the local women were raped during the two-day ordeal.
In July 2010, ICE charged Pimentel Rios in immigration court with being deportable for having assisted or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings during the Dos Erres massacre. In May, an immigration judge in Los Angeles cleared the way for Pimentel Rios' repatriation to Guatemala, ruling he was deportable based upon his participation in the extrajudicial killings at Las Dos Erres. The judge's ruling capped an intensive legal effort by ICE to gain Pimentel Rios' removal from the United States following his arrest by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents in Orange County a year ago.
"For the families who lost loved ones at Dos Erres, justice has been a long time coming, but they can take consolation in the fact that those responsible for this tragedy are now being held accountable for their crimes," said ICE Director John Morton. "I applaud the outstanding work by ICE attorneys and investigators to bring a successful conclusion to this case. We will not allow our country to serve as a safe haven for those who commit human rights abuses and war crimes."
Pimentel Rios is the fourth former Kaibil living in the United States linked to the massacre to be targeted by ICE for enforcement action. Two of the others, Gilberto Jordan and Jorge Vincio Sosa Orantes, previously became naturalized U.S. citizens. In Sept. 2010, Gilberto Jordan was sentenced in Florida to 10 years in federal prison for failing to disclose his prior military service and involvement in the killings on his citizenship application. Criminal charges for naturalization fraud are pending in Los Angeles against Sosa, who is awaiting extradition following his arrest by Canadian authorities in January. A fourth Kaibil, Santos Lopez Alonzo, was arrested by ICE HSI agents in Houston and criminally charged in February 2010 with re-entry after deportation.
The enforcement efforts targeting the former Kaibiles were overseen by ICE's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, in close collaboration with the agency's Human Rights Law Section. Established in 2009 to further ICE efforts to identify, track and prosecute human rights abusers, the Center leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency's broader enforcement efforts against these offenders – http://www.ice.gov/human-rights-violators-war-crimes-unit. Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to call the ICE tip line at 1-866-DHS-2423 (1-866-347-2423). Callers may remain anonymous. To learn more about the assistance available to victims in these cases, the public should contact ICE's confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973.
Since fiscal year 2004, ICE has arrested more than 200 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders for and physically removed more than 400 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States.