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Notes from the Evidence Project: El Salvador Ex-Military Pleads Guilty to Immigration Fraud

September 12, 2012

Inocente Orlando Montano, an El Salvador ex-military officer, pleaded guilty to immigration fraud in Boston yesterday. He was a top military commander at the time of the infamous massacre of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador in 1989. Montano was indicted by the Spanish National Court in May 2011, and Spain has requested his extradition for this case.

Inocente Orlando Montano – courtesy of AP

Montano pleaded guilty to immigration fraud and perjury. It is reported that he lied when he applied for temporary protective status. The U.S. court’s sentencing guidelines call for two years in prison, but Montano and his lawyers are expected to ask for less. See a copy of Montano’s plea agreement here, courtesy of the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). Also see the CJA’s press release here.

The Spanish National Court indicted Montano and 19 other Salvadorans for their alleged involvement in the massacre of six Jesuit priests and two women in 1989. It is important to clarify that Montano’s admission to guilt is solely regarding the charges of immigration fraud, and is not an admission of guilt to his involvement in the Jesuit massacre. [See more about the Spanish case here.]

The National Security Archive has been involved in providing documentary evidence to the Spanish National Court regarding this case. According to U.S. documents, Montano was one of the most powerful military officials in El Salvador when the priests were killed. In the May 2011 indictment, Spanish judge Velasco pointed to the important role declassified documents play as evidence in the trial and called for more documents to be declassified.

Montano could be extradited to Spain; however the United States government has not indicated whether or not it would honor the extradition request. It will be interesting to see the U.S.’s decision regarding the extradition considering the outcomes in two other recent, similar Guatemalan cases: Gilberto Jordan and Pedro Pimentel Rios. In the case of Gilberto Jordan, he was convicted of immigration fraud in September 2012 and is currently serving a sentence of 10 years in a U.S. prison. Pedro Pimentel Rios was deported to Guatemala in July of 2011 where he faced charges of involvement in the Dos Erres massacre in 1982. In March of 2012, Guatemalan courts convicted Pimentel Rios and sentenced him to 6,060 years in prison for the extrajudicial killing of over 200 men, women, and children civilians.

In statements similar to those made by Judge Zloch in the Jordan case, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Mortan told the Associated Press, “ICE will not allow our shores to be a place of refuge for those who persecute and oppress others,” Morton said. He went on to say that the guilty pleas reinforce the message that the United States won’t ignore alleged foreign crimes by people who seek to live here.

According to Associated Press reporting, plans were to argue at sentencing that Montano’s lies were ‘‘motivated by his desire to conceal human rights violations he participated in in El Salvador.’’ In the Jordan case, Judge Zloch gave Jordan the maximum of 10 years in prison because Zloch said he was “unaware of a more serious basis of immigration fraud than the mass murder of innocent civilians.”

This seems to echo a trend that the U.S. government is cracking down on certain perpetrators who commit human rights violations and then seek to build a life in the United States. It will be interesting to follow Montano’s sentencing trial, and see if the U.S. agrees to extradite him to Spain to face charges of murder of the Jesuit Priests.

Additional resources:

(en español) Cnel. Montano se declara culpable de fraude migratorio en EUAEl Faro

(en español) Desde EUA Cnel. Montano niega participación en asesinato de jesuitas – El Faro

Jesuit Massacre War Crime Suspect Faces Mass. Perjury ChargeFox Latino

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Documents regarding the Jesuit Priest Massacre and other issues of El Salvador human rights are available in the National Security Archive’s two published collections in the Digital National Security Archive:

El Salvador: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977–1984
El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights, 1980–1994

These documents are available by subscription only, so be sure to ask your local or university library for access.

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