Court agrees man could face torture, death if returned to El Salvador

A federal appeals court sided with an Arizona man who claimed he would face persecution or death if he was deported to El Salvador, where his family faced beatings and killings before he fled in 1991. (Photo by Tim Evanson/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court overturned an immigration board’s decision to deport an Arizona man to his native El Salvador, rejecting the board’s “glib characterization” that murders, beatings and home invasions did not constitute persecution.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday that Moris Alfredo Quiroz Parada had provided substantial evidence that he faced persecution in his home country.

It said the Board of Immigration Appeals wrongly ignored Quiroz Parada’s “brother’s assassination, the murder of his neighbor as a result of his own family being targeted, his experience being captured and beaten to the point of unconsciousness, repeated forced home invasions, and specific death threats toward his family.”

Government attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But an attorney for Quiroz Parada, who has a wife and children in Arizona and first applied for asylum 24 years ago, called the decision “phenomenal.”

“We’re in good shape,” said Christopher Stender, the attorney. “This is almost in the bucket.”

Stender said that in 30 years practicing law, he never has seen a case take this long, but that Wednesday’s ruling should give hope to others that it is possible to win, even after many years.

Quiroz Parada was 17 when he fled his country in 1991 during the Salvadoran civil war. At the time, he and his family had been threatened, beaten and killed by Frente Farabundo Martí Para la Liberación Nacional fighters because of his brother’s military service, among other reasons.

FMLN guerillas murdered his brother in 1989, broke into the family’s home on at least three occasions and repeatedly came into his village yelling the family’s name, court documents state. Quiroz Parada himself was kidnapped and beaten unconscious at one point.

After he left, Quiroz Parada said family members who stayed behind continued to receive threats and they warned him not to return, saying “history will repeat itself.”

In the years since, FMLN became a political party that has risen to power in El Salvador. At the same time, the court said, the country has been plagued by the rise of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, which includes many sons of FMLN members.

The court said the threat still remains: One MS member told Quiroz Parada’s family they were going to be killed “because your family was in the military and killed someone from my family. And one way or another you will die.”

Quiroz Parada applied for asylum in the U.S. in 1994 but it was not until May 2007, 13 years later, that he was interviewed by a Homeland Security officer. By February 2008, he had been ordered deported by an immigration judge for entering the country illegally.

He then sought asylum – and had to wait another five years to get a hearing on that request.

But when the immigration judge heard the asylum case in November 2012, he based his decision on State Department reports on El Salvador from Quiroz Parada’s 2007 interview. Those documents claimed the situation in El Salvador was stable.

In 2013, Quiroz Parada was denied asylum due to what the immigration judge saw as a lack of “substantial evidence” proving he is at risk of persecution if he returns.

But the 9th Circuit panel noted that the 2007 reports on the situation with human rights in El Salvador were from a time “when the government was run by a different political party.” The FMLN took power in 2009 and MS has since risen in the countryside, the court said.

Judge Richard Paez wrote that “common sense dictates” that a years-old report on a country cannot be used, “particularly when the government is now run, as it was at the time of the … hearing, by the very same FMLN who persecuted the Quiroz Parada family.”

The appeals court stayed the BIA’s deportation decision while the Justice Department reconsiders his asylum claim.

Stender said Quiroz Parada – who has lived in the country for 27 years and is the sole provider for his wife and three children in Arizona – will probably have to wait another year or two for the next decision.