The Board of Immigration Appeals has upheld a Miami judge’s deportation order against former Salvadoran Defense Minister José Guillermo García on the grounds he tolerated widespread human rights violations, including torture and assassination while he led the Central American country’s armed forces more than 30 years ago.
The board’s decision, issued Tuesday, marks a further step in efforts by the U.S. government to deport Garcia after the immigration judge in Miami, Michael C. Horn, ordered his expulsion last year.
Alina Cruz, García’s immigration lawyer, told El Nuevo Herald that her client will not be deported immediately because he plans to appeal the decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga.
“The Board of Immigration Appeals did not apply the correct rule of law and I am confident that General García will ultimately prevail in this case,” said Cruz in a written statement.
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During a dramatic deportation trial in immigration court downtown in early 2013, García, 82, testified that when he was in charge of the armed forces in his country he never managed to control abuses by soldiers under his command because security forces at the time were split into rightist and leftist factions that did not obey orders from anyone.
“Responsibility can not be evaded,” Garcia testified. “But that’s different from guilt, that’s where the difference lies.”
The deportation order against Garcia, who lives in Broward, marks the second time a former Salvadoran general loses in efforts to prevent deportation.
In April, immigration authorities — after a long legal battle — finally deported to El Salvador former defense minister and former Salvadoran National Guard chief, Eugenio Vides Casanova.
Center for Justice & Accountability CJA legal adviser Carolyn Patty Blum welcomed the decision.
“Minister of Defense José Guillermo García was the most powerful man in El Salvador during a reign of terror in which tens of thousands of innocent Salvadorans were slaughtered,” Blum said. “CJA applauds the Department of Homeland Security for its vigorous pursuit of García before the immigration and the Board of Immigration Appeals.
“We hope that García can be swiftly removed from the U.S. and face justice in El Salvador for the El Mozote massacre and the many other crimes committed under his command,” according to a statement from CJA, which was at the forefront of the legal battle for the former general’s deportation.
“It’s been a long battle for justice...[for] victims who suffered the horrendous repression during García’s rule in El Salvador.”
In 2014, the judge’s order to deport García catalogued the killings and torture in El Salvador during the time Garcia served as defense minister from 1979 to 1983.
Judge Horn said the atrocities were “deliberate military policy.”