A Salvadoran national arrested last year in Contra Costa County and held in custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials has been handed over to El Salvador authorities to face a murder charge in his native country, authorities said.
Handy Brayan Guzman-Romero, 26, was turned over to the El Salvadoran Civilian National Police on Thursday, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE.
Guzman-Romero has been charged with first-degree murder in a criminal warrant issued by Salvadoran authorities for his alleged involvement in the fatal shooting of another man in San Jorge, in northeastern El Salvador, on Nov. 6, 2008.
Guzman-Romero may never have been sent back to face that charge had ICE not taken him into custody in the days after his arrest by Contra Costa Sheriff's Office deputies.
Guzman-Romero was arrested on suspicion of hit-and-run and driving without a license in May 2012. When fingerprints revealed he'd been deported in 2007, ICE lodged an immigration detainer against him and took him into custody.
Many such detainers -- a notice that U.S. Department of Homeland Security issues to local agencies telling them they intend to take custody of illegal immigrants in custody -- will no longer be honored by California law enforcement agencies under the Trust Act. The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month, directs agencies to disregard U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds on jail inmates who are otherwise eligible for release.
The Contra Costa Sheriff's Office turned over Guzman-Romero even though deputies found he had no criminal record in the United States and even though he had not been charged with a violent crime, Kice said. Several agencies, including Santa Clara County, refused to cooperate with ICE requests for so-called civil detainers even before the Trust Act was passed.
"It really underscores the complexities of this issue," Kice said in an email. "Here was a guy who had no prior convictions ... and got arrested for relatively minor traffic violations.
"This is exactly the kind of situation where many local agencies likely would ignore ICE's detainer. But if that had been the case here ... it would have resulted in a murder suspect being released to the street."
Guzman-Romero argued in immigration court in Los Angeles that he should be allowed to remain in the United States, but the Board of Immigration Appeals declined to block his deportation, Kice said. He was the 160th fugitive returned to El Salvador by ICE in fiscal year 2013.
Staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this story. Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.