Immigration Judge Declares Former Salvadoran Politician Deportable Under Human Rights Law

A Florida immigration judge has paved the way for the possible deportation of General Eugenio Vides Casanova, the former defense minister of El Salvador. The judge ruled that Vides Casanova is deportable under a 2004 law that permits the deportation of immigrants charged with war crimes or human rights abuses. Observers have called this a “groundbreaking decision,” as it is the first time an immigration judge has applied the 2004 law against a top foreign military officer.

Prior to immigrating to the United States in 1989, Vides Casanova served as national guard director and then minister of defense in El Salvador. He held the defense minister post from 1983 until his emigration in 1989. El Salvador fought a civil war from 1980 until 1992, waged between the military-run government and a coalition of leftist groups. The United States offered support to the government throughout the 1980’s, and Vides reportedly retired from government and moved to the United States with the government’s full support. The war ended with a 1992 peace accord creating a civilian government. Both sides in the conflict committed atrocities against civilian populations, although investigations after the war concluded that the Salvadoran military and allied forces were responsible for the majority of war crimes.

Vides Casanova faced two previous court cases related to his own conduct during the Salvadoran Civil War. The families of four churchwomen murdered in El Salvador in 1980 sued Vides Casanova for wrongful death, alleging that he was responsible as the head of the National Guard. The plaintiffs lost the case on appeal, and the Supreme Court declined to hear it. Five Salvadoran National Guard soldiers served lengthy prison sentences for the killings.

Vides Casanova lost a civil case filed by three victims of torture during the war. He was ordered to pay $54 million in damages to the victims.

The Human Rights Violators & War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU) on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began investigating Vides Casanova in 2009 to see if a 2004 law could be used to deport him. The new law built on a law that had barred convicted war criminals, adding legal charges of human rights abuses as a category of deportability.

The Miami immigration judge concluded that Vides Casanova was responsible for the killings of the four women in 1980, as well as the killings of three people in 1981. Two Salvadorans who allege that Vides Casanova was responsible for their torture during the war testified against him at a hearing last year and have filed civil suits against him. The judge also held Vides Casanova responsible for their torture as part of his ruling.

The ruling does not mean Vides Casanova will be deported. The judge must consider several additional matters before making that decision. The recent ruling holds that the 2004 law applies to Vides Casanova and that the court has the authority to deport him. The decision demonstrates how immigration courts can make decisions on matters of criminal activity even without an actual criminal conviction. ICE appears to have chosen a high-profile figure for enforcement of the 2004 law, but the judge’s decision is still based on accusations rather than a conviction by a jury. That may be problematic for future, less-infamous immigrants.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, which includes the constantly-changing politics of our immigration laws. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us through our website or at (800) 625-3404.

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Photo credit: ‘downtown san salvador 2’ by Eduardo Chang on stock.xchng.