MIAMI -- A former Minister of Defense (1979-1983) of El Salvador was removed from the United States Friday by the U.S. for his role in the commission of human rights violations during the Civil War in El Salvador. The 1980-1992 war resulted in the death of more than 70,000 civilians.
U.S. immigration officers removed General José Guillermo García-Merino, 82, from the United States to San Salvador, El Salvador, via an ICE Air Operations charter aircraft. They had arrested him on December 17th in Florida.
On December 8 the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed Garcia’s appeal and upheld a February 2014 immigration judge’s decision that Garcia was removable from the United States.
The immigration judge found Garcia removable for assisting or participating in the commission of numerous acts of torture and extrajudicial killings in El Salvador while he was in command.
The immigration judge determined, and the BIA upheld, that Garcia knew or should have known about extrajudicial killing and torture, under the theory of command responsibility.
This case was brought under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which added provisions for the removal of aliens who have committed, ordered, incited or otherwise participated in acts of torture or extrajudicial killings.
“ICE is committed to ensuring that the United States does not become a safe haven for human rights abusers," said Thomas Homan, executive associate director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). "No matter how long it takes, we will work to bring perpetrators of such acts to justice and to preserve the sanctity of the immigration system,”
This case was litigated by ICE’s Miami Office of the Chief Counsel with the support of the Human Rights Law Section.
Among its extensive findings of fact, the immigration court of Judge Horn held that General García “assisted or otherwise participated” in the extrajudicial killing and torture of “countless civilians,” including Archbishop Óscar Romero in 1980, at the hands of Salvadoran security forces under his command.
When the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals upheld and finalized the removal order of General Garcia, it relied on its precedent ruling in the case against former Minister of Defense Eugenio Vides Casanova for its decision.
Generals García and Vides Casanova are to date the highest-ranking officials to be prosecuted under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as amended by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA). The ruling reflects a sharp departure from Cold War policies supporting Central American military crackdowns against communist insurgencies. It also represents a Post-9/11 human rights policy against providing a political safe haven for human rights abusers.
García-Merino had first emigrated to the United States in 1989. He was subsequently sued, along with Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, in the United States District Dourt in West Palm Beach in two precedent-setting legal actions.
In Ford v. Garcia, a lawsuit by the families of 4 Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic who were murdered by a Salvadoran military death squad on December 2, 1980, Garcia won the case. The families appealed. Their appeal was denied, and in 2003, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear further proceedings.
In Ramagoza v. Garcia, a lawsuit filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf survivors of torture during the Salvadoran Civil War, Garcia lost and a judgment of over $54 million was entered against him and his co-defendant. It was upheld on appeal.
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 has more than 125 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,750 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from 97 different countries.
Over the last four years, ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center has issued more than 70,100 lookouts for individuals from more than 111 countries and stopped 193 human rights violators or war crime suspects from entering the United States.
Immigration - In Matter of Garcia-Merino - 28 February 2014 by Latin American Herald Tribune