Jose Mardoqueo Ortiz Morales, who was wanted in his native country for his role in the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians in Dos Erres, Guatemala, in 1982, was turned over by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to law enforcement authorities in Guatemala Friday, May 7.
Ortiz Morales, 59, a former member of an elite Guatemalan army unit known as the Kaibiles, is accused of taking part in the massacre in which Guatemalan special forces executed 200 unarmed villagers, including women and children.
Guatemalan authorities allege Ortiz Morales was among some 20 Kaibiles who went to the remote Guatemalan village of Las Dos Erres in search of insurgents responsible for the ambush of an army convoy nearby that left 20 soldiers dead. Insurgents also made off with 21 military rifles. The Kaibiles arrived in the village in the middle of the night, and began searching for the missing weapons, forcing residents from their homes to interrogate them. No military rifles were recovered.
The Kaibiles proceeded to systematically murder the villagers, beginning with the children. According to witnesses, over the course of two days the Kaibiles bludgeoned their victims and threw their bodies into the village’s well. Others were shot or strangled; many women and girls were raped. The settlement was then razed to the ground.
Approximately 12 years after the Dos Erres massacre, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) exhumed the village’s 40-foot well and recovered 162 skeletons, including 67 belonging to children under the age of 12.
The agency’s efforts to target the former Kaibiles were supported by ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (Center). Established in 2009 to further ICE’s efforts to identify, track and prosecute human rights abusers, the HRVWCC 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.
“The Center is committed to working with our domestic and foreign law enforcement partners, as well as NGOs to identify, investigate and prosecute human rights violators,” said Mark Shaffer, Unit Chief, HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. “We are committed to utilizing all of our resources to ensure the United States does not serve as a safe haven for human rights violators.”
In August 1988, Ortiz Morales entered the United States; he adjusted his status to lawful permanent resident on Dec. 1, 1990. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore special agents served Ortiz Morales with a notice to appear based on their investigation which revealed violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act and misrepresentations of his participation in human rights abuses. Ortiz Morales pled guilty and on Sept. 8, 2017, the U.S. District Court in Maryland sentenced him to 11 ½ months for attempted unlawful procurement of his naturalization.
After serving his sentence, the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, Baltimore commenced removal proceedings against Ortiz Morales. On November 13, 2019, an immigration judge ordered Ortiz Morales removed from the United States to Guatemala and on March 30, 2021, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal of the immigration judge’s order.
Ortiz Morales is the fifth participant in the Dos Erres massacre living in the U.S. to be targeted by ICE for enforcement action.
ICE previously removed three Dos Erres massacre participants from the U.S. to Guatemala to face war crimes charges. The first, Pedro Pimentel Rios, was removed in 2011 and on March 12, 2012, was convicted for his role in the massacre and sentenced to 6,060 years in prison. The second, Santos Lopez Alonzo, was removed to Guatemala on August 10, 2016, and on Nov. 21, 2018 was sentenced to 5,160 years in prison, the third, Gilberto Jordan was removed to Guatemala on March 3, 2020. ICE removed Jorge Sosa Orantes, on October 19, 2020, after he served his 10-year federal prison term for naturalization fraud.
Since 2003, ICE has arrested more than 468 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders and/or physically removed from the United States 1,070 known or suspected human rights violators. Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 174 such individuals from the United States.
Currently, HSI has more than 170 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 77,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 340 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.
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.
ICE continues to implement interim civil immigration enforcement priorities directed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to focus its limited resources on threats to national security, border security and public safety. ICE carries out its duty to enforce the laws of the United States in accordance with the Department’s national security and public safety mission.