CLEVELAND — A former Bosnian Serb military officer and his wife were deported Sept. 30, after being convicted separately for lying to gain immigration benefits in the United States. The pair withheld or lied about the husband’s extensive involvement in the 1992-1995 civil war in Bosnian-Herzegovina, including at Srebrenica in July 1995.
The investigation leading to the pair’s deportation was conducted by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Cleveland. Both criminal cases were successfully prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio.
Ratko Maslenjak, 57, a former Cleveland-area resident and his wife, Divna Maslenjak, 53, arrived in Belgrade, Serbia, Oct. 1, via commercial aircraft. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers witnessed the pair’s departure from JFK International Airport and confirmed their arrival with Serbian authorities.
Natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the duo fraudulently entered the United States in 2000. Ratko adjusted to lawful permanent resident status in 2004. Divna applied for naturalization in 2006 and became a naturalized citizen a year later.
In 2007, Ratko was convicted of obtaining immigration benefits via fraud. In 2014, Divna was convicted of naturalization fraud and utilizing her fraudulently-procured status to file immigration benefits for Ratko. Both lost their statuses and were ordered removed May 19, 2016, by an immigration judge.
An investigation by HSI Cleveland determined that the pair repeatedly failed to disclose and blatantly lied to U.S. immigration officials about Ratko’s extensive service in the notorious Bratunac Brigade, a military unit implicated in assisting in the brutal persecution and massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims during the conflict.
The pair’s removal is the culmination of a more than 10-year effort by the following domestic and overseas ICE programs: HSI, ERO, the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the Office of International Affairs, and the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center in Washington, D.C.
ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center investigates human rights violators who try to evade justice by seeking shelter in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. These individuals may use fraudulent identities to enter the country and attempt to blend into U.S. communities.
Since fiscal year 2004, ICE has arrested more than 360 individuals for human rights-related violations under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders and physically removed more than 780 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States.
Currently, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has more than 140 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 97 different countries. Over the last four years, the HRVWCC has issued more than 70,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped 194 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the United States.