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Alleged Robbers in U.S. Illegally

By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
       Three men who allegedly stormed into a West Side Denny's over the weekend and killed a 34-year-old cook were in the United States illegally, and one had been deported less than a year ago after an arrest.
    Pablo Ortiz, who police say is a member of the notorious Salvadoran gang MS-13, was arrested in Albuquerque in May 2008 on suspicion of DWI. After a judge found him guilty, Ortiz spent 46 days at the Metropolitan Detention Center. He was released on July 7.
    About a month later, Ortiz "agreed to participate in a voluntary deportation program," Police Chief Ray Schultz told the Journal.
    Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents "put him on a plane and sent him back to El Salvador" in August of 2008, the chief said. "Some time in the next few months, he sneaked back into the country."
    Federal officials also confirmed that two other suspects in the Denny's shooting are here illegally, but it is unclear whether 22-year-old Marvin Lopez-Aguilar and 25-year-old Francisco Melgar had previously been deported to El Salvador.
    Ortiz and Lopez-Aguilar remained jailed at the MDC late Tuesday on no-bond holds.
    They are charged with murder in the killing of Denny's cook Stephanie Anderson and more than 40 other felony counts.
    Authorities were still searching for Melgar, who faces the same charges.
    Police say Melgar and Ortiz are MS-13 gang members.
    Melgar has twice been arrested on suspicion of DWI in Bernalillo County, court records show. In 2006, his charge was dismissed by prosecutors due to lack of discovery.
    He was arrested again in February of 2009 and is due to appear on that charge before a Metropolitan Court judge on Thursday.
    On both occasions, Melgar was released from the West Side jail on his own recognizance under court order, jail Capt. Heather Lough said. Officials could not determine Tuesday whether Melgar had immigration holds at the time of his two arrests, although Lough said it is unlikely.
    "If he had had immigration holds, he would not have been released," she said.
    A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not provide details of the three men's immigration status on Tuesday.
    "They do have detainers because they are in the country illegally," ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa wrote in an e-mail response to Journal questions.
    Zamarripa said the detainers were placed on Ortiz and Lopez-Aguilar after their arrests on Saturday.
    Schultz said in the case of Ortiz's May 2008 arrest, the officer who pulled him over did not contact federal authorities because the officer did not believe his immigration status was pertinent to the DWI investigation.
    He did not know the details of Melgar's arrests.
    Determining when police officers should call federal immigration officers has been a hotly debated topic among elected officials, community leaders and the public.
    Albuquerque police issued a policy for its officers, and then was forced to reissue it after complaints about what it meant.
    The current policy reads: "Officers shall not inquire about or seek proof of a person's immigration status, unless the person is in custody or is a suspect in a criminal investigation for a nonimmigration criminal violation and the immigration status of the person or suspect is pertinent to the criminal investigation."
    Moreover, ICE agents regularly check the immigration status of all those booked into the West Side jail, whether APD officers call them or not.
    The chief reiterated that Albuquerque is not a "sanctuary city," as some critics have alleged. "This is an immigrant-friendly city. We work with all federal partners to keep the citizens of this city safe."

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