Two brothers from Washington charged in the slayings of an Arlington couple may have fled to Mexico to escape justice. But that’s hardly a safe haven for U.S. fugitives these days, statistics and authorities say.

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After allegedly killing an Arlington couple whose bodies remain missing, brothers John and Tony Reed fled the remote woods near Oso this month, bolted Washington and made a run for the border.

Their apparent destination? Mexico, a frequent terminus of choice along the American fugitive’s flight from justice, a place that conventional wisdom suggests brings freedom.

But on the other side of the border, Rodolfo Luna suggests otherwise.

“We know all about this case,” Luna, who heads a squad of eight fugitive-tracking agents for the Policia Estatal Protectiva, said Wednesday. “We have a lot of people looking for them. I think it’s only going to be a few days to locate these guys.”

And that’s typical, said Luna, whose Baja California state police unit handles about three fugitive cases per week and is nearing a milestone: the team’s 1,000th capture since its formation in 2003.

Luna’s squad has become a key partner in what he and his counterparts in the U.S. describe as an improving alliance to corral bad guys on the international lam.

It’s a relationship that dates back to at least 1978, when the United States and Mexico first signed a bilateral extradition treaty to capture and return criminal fugitives to America.

In recent years, cooperation between the two nations has increased and the alliance has paid off: Since 2003, Mexico has returned more than 3,500 wanted men and women to face prosecution in this country, with the number of deported or extradited fugitives increasing over the years, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

On average, 341 fugitives in Mexico have been captured and returned to America annually since 2011, about 200 more per year than in the early 2000s.

Recent high-profile fugitive apprehensions include Ethan Couch, the so-called “affluenza teen,” who was nabbed in Puerto Vallarta in December; and Brenda Delgado, a jilted lover who allegedly orchestrated the murder-for-hire of a Dallas dentist, who was captured earlier this month in the Mexican city of Torreon.

Such examples and statistics belie the common belief that Mexico is a safe haven for fugitives.

“Maybe it’s from watching movies, but people think that U.S. law enforcement stops at the border,” said Special Agent Darrell Foxworth, spokesman for the FBI’s San Diego office. “We don’t.”

Fugitives who have appeared on the FBI’s Most Wanted List are more likely to be captured in Mexico than any other foreign nation, statistics show. Since 1998, 12 “Most Wanted” fugitives have been caught there, compared with 14 in all other parts of the world combined, excluding the U.S. (The Reeds have yet to be designated “Most Wanted” fugitives, which can bring more publicity).

Easy destination

Proximity and ease of entry are two reasons Mexico remains a preferred destination for fleeing suspects, authorities acknowledge. Mexican customs agents monitor border crossings, but their resources are spread thin and sometimes agents are overwhelmed by sheer volume, officials say.

“Even in small ports like Mexicali, there’s no system with complete verification of every passage,” said Jose Robleto, the FBI’s supervisory border liaison in San Diego.

“It’s not like coming into the U.S., where every person is being checked,” Robleto added. “If you’re a fugitive and you’re driving, you may get stopped, you may not. The likelihood is if you don’t have contraband and they don’t know who you are, you’ll probably get in.”

Once suspects enter Mexico, marshals or FBI agents typically take up pursuits on behalf of local law enforcement in the U.S. Federal authorities usually seek what’s known as a “UFAP,” or an “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution” warrant, that essentially tacks an additional federal charge onto the local charges for which a suspect is already wanted.

“That gives more weight to our international partners in helping us investigate” fugitives on foreign soil, Foxworth said. Only police in Mexico have jurisdiction to arrest fugitives in that country, but U.S. agencies can offer help.

Investigators on either side of the border typically meet in person on a monthly basis, and otherwise share information daily, Luna said.

Once captured, American citizens with no ties to Mexico can be deported within a few hours. For fugitives with stronger ties, such as citizenship or family members living there, it may take several months to be extradited.

“Mexico recognizes more than ever that these are people who could possibly commit a crime or hurt one of their citizens,” Robleto said. “So, they want them out of their country.”

Money is crucial

Authorities say the Reeds’ run south occurred a few days after they allegedly killed Patrick Shunn and Monique Patenaude, who were last seen April 11.

The brothers, both felons, each have been charged with two counts of murder and illegal gun possession, with a warrant issued nationwide for their arrests.

After allegedly killing the couple, the brothers are believed to have traveled in John Reed’s pickup to their parents’ home in Ellensburg. There, John Reed unsuccessfully tried on April 14 to cash a $96,000 check — partial payment for selling his Oso property to Snohomish County last month — before the brothers fled in their mother’s Volkswagen convertible.

The brothers ditched the VW in Phoenix, where a friend allegedly gave them $500 and a 2002 Acura. They were spotted in Mexicali, Mexico, on April 18, court records say.

The U.S. Marshals Service, the lead federal agency assisting in the manhunt, has offered a $5,000 reward. Paul Baxley, acting deputy chief of the marshals’ Seattle office, noted last week that his agency is always poised to search for fugitives in Mexico.

“We may not have jurisdiction there, but we do have bilateral agreements with Mexico and there’s a cadre of 15 to 20 marshals in Mexico City,” Baxley said.

Just as with other cases, fliers about the Reeds have been distributed and information shared with Mexico’s local and state police and its military and immigration department, Luna said.

Because the Reeds are non-Hispanics who may not speak Spanish fluently, authorities say, they may have trouble averting detection for long. Their ability to avoid capture may come down to money, Luna said.

“If these guys don’t have money, it’s going to be a problem for them to travel,” he said. “I think we’re going to be successful with this case.”