Apostle of mayhem
Roberto Mendoza slipped into B.C. and now walks our streets. He is linked to a brutal gang and faces criminal charges here. Why hasn't he been deported?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
A Salvadoran member of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha-13 gang is living in British Columbia despite fears by immigration officials that the gang has a “single brutal purpose” of carrying out criminal activity by any means.
Roberto Ernesto Contreras Mendoza, 33, listed his address as a suite in a downtown Vancouver hotel while he applied for refugee status in a string of applications, appeals and, most recently, a judicial review.
Mendoza's body is covered in vivid tattoos marking him as a walking billboard for the Mara Salvatrucha-13 gang.
He was ordered deported in February after being deemed inadmissible because of his gang connections and is awaiting results of a pre-removal risk assessment.
Mendoza, who is out on bail, is also scheduled to appear in Surrey Provincial Court next month on charges of assault and uttering threats in connection with an October incident involving a woman in Surrey.
Mendoza can't be deported until his criminal charges have been dealt with.
“Even if the removal order was ready, the criminal business in the courts has to be dealt with prior to removal,” Immigration Refugee Board spokeswoman Melissa Anderson said.
Mendoza was last detained by the IRB in October 2006 but released after 48 hours.
“He certainly hasn't been on our radar screens,” Anderson said.
Police have claimed for years that MS-13 — known for murder, kidnapping, rape, extortion and drug trafficking in El Salvador — is starting to infiltrate north from the U.S. into Canada.
Mendoza's applications to the Immigration Review Board give a rare glimpse into the gang's inner workings.
He claims he was coerced into the gang, which dubbed him “Darky” and baptized him with a 14-second beating. He was then tattooed with 11 different gang markings.
Among the most prominent are two masks — one smiling, one sad — on his right arm. The sad face reflects time in prison and the loss of a relative, while the happy face reflects good times with the family.
His other tattoos include the name Mara Salvatrucha with the number 13 across his shoulder and a spider web and a billiard ball with the number 13 on his chest.
Mendoza's story is full of contradictions about why and when he joined. He was coerced, he told one immigration officer; he joined because he was fed up with injustice towards the poor, he told another.
Sometime in the 1980s, MS-13 gang members were deported in droves to El Salvador from Los Angeles, where they had formed MS-13 to protect themselves against black and Latino street gangs.
The members, covered in elaborate tattoos, are usually between ages of 11 and 40, according to immigration documents.
“Tattooed, strangely dressed and oozing a worldly cool, the returnees became apostles of mayhem. They found ready converts, with U.S. trained gangsters offering rootless boys a sense of family,” said an article by the Maldon Institute, a U.S. think tank, which was cited as evidence in Mendoza's refugee hearing. “They provided income to those with little hope of finding well paying jobs. Youths joined by the thousands.”
Mendoza said after the first of two daughters was born, he'd had enough. At one point, he said the gang had raped his sister and cut off his finger. He also claims he was shot and stabbed in 2005 by eight to 19 “Maras.”
When asked what he feared most about returning home to El Salvador, he cited police units called La Sombra Negra (Black Shadow) and Mane Dure (Firm Hand).
“The Sombra Negra would kill me because I have tattoos. They kill everybody with tattoos,” he said in a handwritten personal information form submitted to the Immigration and Refugee Board in October 2005.
In 2000, Mendoza hopped a bus to Guatemala, hitched a lift on a freight train to Mexico and walked across the border into the U.S., where where he worked odd jobs from Salt Lake City to Seattle.
He “blew the border” into B.C. at Sumas in 2005, seeking convention refugee status, claiming he would be killed or tortured if he returned to his native land. But immigration officials didn't buy his story, saying he had changed it to minimize his gang involvement.
This was partly based on evidence from Hector Alicia, a New York gang investigator who told a hearing that a member of the Mara Salvatrucha cannot be “jumped in” unless they want to be involved.
Although Mendoza won a reprieve in April 2006, subsequent appeals and applications for refugee status have been denied due to his gang connections.
“It is clear that the Mara Salvatrucha has a single brutal purpose, that of carrying out criminal activity by whatever means it chooses,” the Immigration Appeal Division said in an October 2006 ruling.