NEW ORLEANS — A Honduran national wanted in his home country on charges of murdering a family member was removed from the United States Friday by officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).
Laureano Garcia-Zelaya, 36, entered the United States illegally in April 2004 near Eagle Pass, Texas, where he was encountered by the Border Patrol and issued a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge. Garcia-Zelaya subsequently became an ICE fugitive when he failed to appear for his court hearing in May 2004 and an immigration judge ordered him removed in absentia.
While Garcia-Zelaya was an immigration fugitive he subsequently returned to Honduras at an unknown time where he then allegedly murdered a young woman in September 2006 by shooting her multiple times, according to an arrest warrant issued by a Honduran court in Trujillo, Colón.
Garcia-Zelaya then reentered the United States illegally at an unknown place or time, and in April 2013, ICE ERO New Orleans fugitive operations officers arrested Garcia-Zelaya in Harvey, La., during a targeted enforcement operation. At that time, a criminal records check of the INTERPOL database did not indicate he was wanted for murder.
Immigration advocacy groups subsequently petitioned ICE to release Garcia-Zelaya and stay his removal by granting prosecutorial discretion; this petition included letters of support from multiple elected officials. Garcia-Zelaya was subsequently released on an order of supervision in May 2013.
In September 2014, during a status check, ICE discovered the issuance of an INTERPOL Red Notice for Garcia-Zelaya on the Honduran murder charge; on October 2 ERO New Orleans re-arrested Garcia and revoked his stay of removal.
Garcia-Zelaya was removed by ERO officers via an ICE Air Operations charter aircraft Friday from Alexandria International Airport in Alexandria to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. From there, ERO officers transferred him into the custody of Honduran National Police.
Since Oct. 1, 2009, ERO has removed more than 720 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 the ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Office of International Affairs, foreign consular offices in the United States, and Interpol to identify foreign fugitives illegally present in the country.
In fiscal year 2013, ICE conducted 368,644 removals nationwide. Nearly 60 percent of ICE's total removals had been previously convicted of a criminal offense; 82 percent of individuals removed from the interior of the United States had previously been convicted of a criminal offense.
Other than convicted criminals, the agency's enforcement priorities include those apprehended while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, illegal re-entrants – individuals who returned to the United States after being previously removed by ICE – and immigration fugitives. In fiscal year 2013, 98 percent of ICE removals met these priorities – a record high.