Salvadoran Ex-General Eugenio Vides Casanova Appeals Deportation in Landmark Human Rights Case

| by Allison Geller

General Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former Salvadoran defense minister charged with multiple murders during his country’s military strife in the 1980s, is appealing a deportation ruling by the United States’ highest immigration court.

Vides Casanova, who was El Salvador's defense minister from 1983 to 1989, has been living in Florida since 1989 and is fighting to stay there, the Associated Press reported.

An immigration judge ruled in February 2012 that the former general could be deported for his role in acts of murder and torture by the Salvadoran military. Vides Casanova was charged in the deaths of four American churchwomen killed on a rural road in El Salvador in 1980.

The ruling by Orlando immigration judge James Grim marked the first time that a top-ranking foreign military officer had been targeted by an immigration court for deportation based on human rights violations and the first exercise of a 2004 law intended on stopping terrorists from seeking asylum in the United States. It was also the first time that the general had been held responsible for the murders in a court of law, the New York Times reported.

“This is the first case where the Department of Homeland Security has taken this relatively new law and applied it to the highest military commander of their country to seek their removal,” Carolyn Patty Blum, senior legal adviser for the Center for Justice and Accountability, told the paper.  The San Francisco-based nonprofit legal group represented several torture victims in the Vides Casanova case.

But the significance of the case will be determined by the results of Vides Casanova’s appeal. The former general has previously argued against his deportation by pointing out that the U.S. government supported his military regime against leftist guerilla forces. During El Salvador’s civil war, the U.S. government lauded Vides Casanova as a reformer, despite knowledge of his brutality.

The Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Va. will hear the appeal Thursday morning.

Sources: Associated PressNew York Times