Federal immigration officials say it could take months to deport an MS-13 gang member who was acquitted of murder charges this week in Alexandria.
In the meantime, Oscar Garcia-Orellana, 32, will remain in custody at Fairfax County Jail pending a hearing by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in Arlington, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said.
Garcia-Orellana faces deportation to El Salvador as part of the federal government’s efforts to send illegal aliens back to their home countries.
He was the only defendant to testify in the trial, which resulted in the acquittal Tuesday of another gang member. Two other gang members were found guilty of murdering a pregnant 17-year-old former member.
Attorneys for Garcia-Orellana, who has been in the United States since 1998, argue that his testimony puts him at risk of assassination if he is deported. They said they will fight to get him asylum status so he can remain in the United States.
Immigration authorities deported 91,921 aliens on criminal and noncriminal charges in 1999, said Mike Keegan, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer.
That figure rose to 161,501 last year—a 75 percent increase, he said.
“Every year it has increased,” Mr. Keegan said. “Now that we have two [immigration] agencies combined, we’re a lot stronger. We have a lot more methods of investigating and tracking people down.”
ICE was created in March 2003 by the merger of the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Federal Protective Service.
From Jan. 1 to March 31, ICE authorities deported 63,706 aliens on criminal and noncriminal charges. During that period, 1,066 aliens were deported from the District, Virginia and Maryland.