José Guillermo García, the former Salvadoran defense minister recently deported from Miami, intends to go forward with an appeal before a federal court to reverse his removal, according to his immigration attorney.
Alina Cruz, García’s attorney, said her client expects to prevail in the appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.
“This case is far from over and we remain confident that General Garcia will ultimately prevail in this case,” Cruz said in an email message. “I regret that I cannot comment further on this ongoing case.”
García, 82, was flown to San Salvador on Jan. 8 — escorted by personnel from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The removal marked the final chapter in federal efforts to deport two former senior Salvadoran military officials suspected of human rights violations. Eugenio Vides Casanova, former Salvadoran National Guard chief, was deported last year.
García, who was a permanent resident and lived in Broward.
“The fact that General García was physically removed does not mean that the appeal cannot continue,” Cruz added in her email.
ICE said in a statement that it deported García after the Board of Immigration Appeals on Dec. 8 upheld a removal order originally issued by a Miami immigration judge in February 2014.
“When the BIA upholds a removal order, DHS can detain and remove the person,” Cruz noted. “However the person has 60 days to appeal to the Court of Appeals a decision from a government agency, which is what the BIA is.”
Meanwhile, human rights activists welcomed García’s deportation, saying it marked a significant development along with that of former Gen. Vides Casanova.
“The removal of General Guillermo García is a historic moment for the victims and survivors of human rights abuses during El Salvador’s civil war,” said Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) senior legal advisor Carolyn Patty Blum. “The removal from the United States of Guillermo García and that of former minister of defense Vides Casanova, generals who carried out horrendous crimes while they were in control of the army and security forces during the Salvadoran civil war, is unprecedented.”
This outcome, she added, was “a testament to the years of hard work of human rights activists in El Salvador and the United States and the dedication of lawyers, researchers and others in the Department of Homeland Security.”
A CJA statement noted that García’s removal had come on the heels of an immigration appeals board decision, which upheld his deportation for assisting and participating in the torture and extrajudicial killings of civilians, including the torture of CJA client Juan Romagoza Arce.
In 2014, Immigration Judge Michael C. Horn determined that García “assisted or otherwise participated in some of the most heinous human rights crimes committed in El Salvador in the 1980s, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the killing of four American churchwomen and two U.S. labor advisors, the massacre at El Mozote, and the torture of Salvadoran citizens.” CJA said.
CJA had fought legally to bring García to justice since 1999, when he was one of two defendants in a civil case brought by the organization on behalf of torture survivors.
CJA’s case resulted in a multi-million dollar jury verdict finding Vides Casanova and García liable for the torture of three plaintiffs.
Alfonso Chardy: 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy