In November, officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Houston arrested and deported 24-year-old Erick Giovanni Portillo-Ayala, an El Salvadoran national and documented MS-13 gang member who had been in the country for more than six years.
The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) had issued a “Red Notice” for Portillo-Ayala as a member of a “terrorist organization” at the request of El Salvador.
According to ICE, Portillo-Ayala had entered the U.S. illegally on April 6, 2014, and although he was immediately taken into custody near Sarita, Texas, he was released a few months later after posting bond set by an immigration judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
After he failed to attend his immigration hearing, in October of 2018 an immigration judge ordered Portillo-Ayala deported, but it took more than two years to locate and arrest him.
Portillo-Ayala’s deportation came during the same month that five other MS-13 gang members, also illegal immigrants from El Salvador, were indicted for a brutal murder in which the men are alleged to have used a machete to hack a police informant to death in Houston.
According to Ryan K. Patrick, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, MS-13 often uses violence to terrorize the community.
“MS-13 uses brutal killings, often by machete, to prove their worth to the clique and send a message to others,” Patrick noted on announcing the indictments.
Another El Salvadoran national illegally residing in Houston, Elmer Rolando Manzano-Martinez, is being held on capital murder charges after allegedly shooting to death Houston Police Sergeant Harold Preston and wounding another officer. Although Manzano-Martinez had a criminal history including a conviction and jail time, he had not been identified for possible deportation until the October murder.
This week, Houston Police reportedly rescued 29 individuals from a possible human smuggling operation who were being held hostage in a home on the southwest side of the city. According to police, the victims had been stripped of all clothing except for briefs, and were from various Latin American countries, including El Salvador. ICE will be taking over the investigation of the incident, in which suspects may have tried to blend in with victims by removing their own clothing when police arrived.
Texas law specifically prohibits so-called “Sanctuary City” or “Sanctuary County” policies, but an estimated 412,000 illegal immigrants reside in the Houston and Harris County area according to county Judge Lina Hidalgo.
On Thursday, Houston Police reportedly rescued 29 individuals from a possible human smuggling operation who were being held hostage in a home on the southwest side of the city. The victims were from various Latin American countries, including El Salvador, according to police.
Last month on a party-line vote, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved spending more than $2 million over the next two years to provide legal services for illegal immigrants residing in the county. The county is also seeking to join the Vera Institute for Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone Network, consisting of cities and counties nationwide allocating taxpayer funds to provide a public defender system for all immigrants “regardless of…history with the criminal legal system.”
At one time the county sheriff’s department participated in the 287(G) program under which deputies were trained to identify suspects with deportation orders, but after taking office in 2017 Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D) announced that his department would opt out of the federal grant.
ERO Houston arrested Portillo-Ayala on November 5, 2020, and ICE Air Operations flew him from Alexandria, Louisiana, to the El Salvador International Airport on November 20 where he was turned over to Salvadoran authorities.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.