Two illegal immigrants suspected in two MS-13 gang-related killings in Baltimore had been in police custody before but set free in defiance of deportation requests from ICE, allowing them to be out on the streets at the time of the slayings, the federal agency said Tuesday.
Two teenage girls were killed in the May and June attacks. Two other teens suffered stab wounds.
Six people have been charged, and at least three of them are illegal immigrants who reached the U.S. during the Central American migrant surge in 2016, The Washington Times has learned.
Two of them had run-ins with police before and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had sought to take custody of them, but authorities in Suffolk County in New York and Prince George’s County in Maryland defied “detainer” requests and released them.
“This is the worst-case scenario,” said Francisco Madrigal, the acting director of ICE’s Baltimore field office.
ICE identified the three immigrants as Wilson Art Constanza-Galdomez, 21, from El Salvador; Wualter Orellana-Hernandez, 19, from El Salvador; and Jonathan J. Pesquera-Puerto, 19, from Honduras.
All of them came to the U.S. as juveniles and they gained a foothold under policies that grant special treatment to children from beyond Mexico.
Security experts say those policies brought hundreds of thousands of children to the U.S. from Central America over the last decade, creating a massive recruiting pool for MS-13, a particularly violent street gang that reaches from El Salvador deep into American cities.
Both Baltimore attacks have been linked to MS-13.
The first, on May 29, saw Gabriela Alejandra Gonzalez-Ardon, a 16-year-old from New York, killed on a path near Loch Raven Reservoir in northern Baltimore County. Police believe she was lured to the spot and killed because she was talking with a rival gang.
Five people, including Mr. Constanza-Galdomez, Mr. Orellana-Hernandez and Mr. Pesquera-Puerto, face murder, assault, kidnapping and other charges.
On June 6, Michelle Tenezaca, 18, was found stabbed to death in eastern Baltimore. Her 17-year-old sister and the sister’s 17-year-old boyfriend also were stabbed, but survived.
According to court documents, the boyfriend said the attackers had been trying to recruit him to join MS-13 for six months, but he’d been refusing.
Six people, including the three confirmed illegal immigrants, face kidnapping, attempted murder and other charges.
Mr. Constanza-Galdomez was caught by the Border Patrol in April 2016, having arrived as an Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC) at age 16.
He would first be arrested in Suffolk County in New York two years ago, and ICE took custody of him after his release. An immigration judge granted him bond. He was arrested again later that year on local charges and Suffolk County released him that time, despite an ICE detainer request that he be turned over.
He didn’t show for his immigration hearing and the judge ordered him deported, but he was already out in the community, ICE said.
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office referred questions to the county attorney’s office, which didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Times.
Mr. Orellana-Hernandez, meanwhile, arrived in December 2016 at age 15, also as a UAC. He was arrested by Prince George’s County Police Department in January and ICE asked that he be turned over, but the detention center released him.
A spokesman for Prince George’s County Department of Corrections said he received the Times’ inquiry but did not provide a comment.
Prince George’s County operates as a sanctuary jurisdiction, refusing to comply with “detainer” requests from ICE, the agency says.
Last year the county admitted it released another illegal immigrant despite being wanted by ICE and facing attempted murder charges in 2018. That migrant, Joel Ernesto Escobar, who also came to the country as a UAC, would go on to be part of a gang killing, police said.
“If the whole idea is that we want to protect people by declining detainers, this proves how stupid that policy is,” said Andrew R. Arthur, a resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which tracks sanctuary cities.
Mr. Arthur said criminals protected by sanctuary policies often prey on the same immigrant communities politicians say they’re trying to protect from deportation. That includes gang members.
“They literally handcuff police in getting people police believe are dangerous off the street,” Mr. Arthur said. “These elected people who have no law enforcement experience whatsoever are making law enforcement determinations as it relates to dangerous people.”
Similar gang-related killings have been reported from Seattle to Atlanta in the last couple years, with migrants who came as juveniles being named in those cases.
MS-13 has been active in the Washington metropolitan area for decades, but authorities say they’re seeing signs of it spreading across the state, including to the Baltimore area.