I’ve long had a soft spot in my heart for Worker’s World newspaper, with its tag line: “Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World Unite!” I can’t say I always agreed with the paper, but is does sometimes highlight issues not covered by more mainstream news outlets.
One recent story caught my attention. Last December, the paper had an article about Chilean “revolutionary” Victor Toro. Mr. Toro claims to be a leader and founder of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR – the Revolutionary Left Movement) of Chile. He was tortured in Chile because of his political opposition to General Pinochet’s dictatorship. Mr. Toro has also been a well-known activist for immigrant’s rights in New York City for many years.
According to Worker’s World, Mr. Toro, who is undocumented, was “racially profiled” by immigration agents and arrested in 2007. He was then placed into removal proceedings where he “demanded” political asylum.
First, it strikes me as a bit ironic that a Chilean revolutionary–someone who opposed the U.S.-backed coup that violently overthrew elected president Salvador Allende in 1973–would seek asylum in the United States, the same country that helped orchestrate the coup.
Second, it seems strange to “demand” asylum. Maybe it is a technical point, but asylum is a discretionary form of relief; this means that the U.S. government can deny asylum in the exercise of its discretion (say, for example, if the asylum seeker is not a person of good moral character). Given the discretionary nature of the relief, no one can "demand” asylum. They have to ask for it. Nicely.
Earlier this month, the Immigration Judge denied asylum. Mr. Toro’s attorney issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the decision and vowing to appeal. From what I can glean from the statement, the IJ denied relief principally because Mr. Toro did not file for asylum within one year of arriving in the U.S. and because country conditions in Chile had changed, making it safe for him to return.
I have never worked on an asylum case from Chile, but given the current country conditions (good), I am not surprised that Mr. Toro’s case was denied. What seems a real shame is that, had Mr. Toro applied in a timely manner, he might well have qualified for "humanitarian asylum.” Humanitarian asylum is available to people who have suffered severe persecution in their country, and is available even if country conditions have improved. Basically, it is a recognition that some people should not have to go back to a country where they suffered severe persecution.
Mr. Toro was tortured severely in Chile, but apparently his failure to timely file for asylum prevented him from obtaining humanitarian asylum. Thus–once again–an arbitrary filing deadline has caused real harm. Frankly, I have my doubts that Mr. Toro will suffer persecution if he returns to Chile. But considering that he suffered torture in his country previously, he should have received humanitarian asylum.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.