A former Guatemalan soldier accused of participating in a bloody massacre during his native country's civil war in the 1980s has been found guilty of immigration fraud in the United States.
On Tuesday, jurors in Riverside County found Jorge Sosa guilty of lying on his application for U.S. citizenship several years ago. A federal Department of Justice spokesman confirmed that Sosa was found guilty on two counts: making false statements, and obtaining U.S. citizenship unlawfully.
Prosecutors had made the case that Sosa omitted information about his role in the Guatemalan military and his involvement in a notorious massacre of civilians, although he was required to list such information when he applied. Sosa could face up to 15 years in a U.S. prison.
The 1982 massacre took place in Dos Erres, a small village whose population was decimated by an elite Guatemalan army unit known as the Kaibiles. Residents were bludgeoned and thrown into a well, many of them women and children. Women in the village were raped and more than 200 civilians are believed to have been killed.
Sosa, a former army officer, is the second ex-soldier implicated in the Dos Erres massacre to be convicted of immigration fraud in the United States. In 2010, Gilberto Jordán was sentenced in Florida to 10 years in prison on similar charges. Jordán was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and faces deportation to Guatemala once his sentence is complete.
Sosa also faces the loss of his citizenship and eventual deportation to Guatemala. It's not clear if he will stand trial in his native country. But the involvement of U.S. authorities in getting him to stand trial here - even on the lesser immigration charge - is encouraging, said Kathryn Johnson, assistant director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission's Washington, D.C. office.
"It's important that the United States has stepped in and issued this verdict, especially because it was an opportunity for so much of the evidence presented in Guatemala to also be presented in U.S. courts," Johnson said. "It represents an acknowledgement by the United States that these atrocities were committed."
Two others from the unit involved in the Dos Erres massacre are known to have made it to the United States, but did not become citizens; one of them, former Orange County resident Pedro Pimentel Rios, was deported to Guatemala in 2011 and stood trial there. He was sentenced last year to more than 6,000 years in prison - 30 years for each victim.
A few others implicated in the massacre have received similar sentences in Guatemala. Johnson said it's estimated that more than 200,000 people died in Guatemala's internal conflict, which lasted 36 years from the early 1960s until 1996. Dos Erres was among hundreds of villages where residents were wiped out, she added.
Sosa is scheduled to be sentenced for his immigration conviction Dec. 9.