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Bloggings on Political Asylum

by Jason Dzubow

Guatemala Massacre Survivors Reunited After 30 Years

In 1982, during the Guatemala civil war, a squad of soldiers led by Lt. Oscar Ramírez Ramos attacked the town of Dos Erres.  They killed over 250 people, mostly women and children.  

Lt. Ramírez Ramos spared a 3-year-old boy named Oscar, and brought the child home to live with him (the phenomena of persecutors adopting the children of their victims is not as uncommon as you might think–the New Yorker recently had an interesting article about how this played out during Argentina’s Dirty War).  After Lt. Ramírez Ramos died in an accident, his family continued to raise Oscar as their own.  The family never told him about his past, and he grew up idolizing his “father,” the man who killed his mother and eight siblings.

Tranquilino Castañeda reunited with his son and grandchildren.

Oscar’s real father, Tranquilino Castañeda, was away from home during the attack, and for 30 years, he mourned the death of his wife and children, including Oscar.  But last year, an investigation by Guatemalan prosecutors revealed that one son–Oscar–had survived.  A DNA test last August confirmed that the two men were father and son, and they were reunited via Skype.

Oscar had come to the United States in 1998, and has been living here illegally since that time.  After they learned about each other, Oscar’s father came to the U.S., and the pair reunited after 30 years apart:

“Yesterday I had the chance to see him in person. It is quite different from seeing him on the computer or on pictures,” Tranquilino said. The Guatemalan farmer has green eyes and the leathery skin of someone who has worked in the fields all his life. He is a man of few words.  Tranquilino and Oscar, who is 33, met for the first time at a New Jersey airport, just a few hours after Castaneda landed there from Guatemala. [Oscar], his son, traveled to New Jersey from Framingham, Mass., a blue-collar suburb of Boston where he lives with his wife and four children.

After he learned the truth about his family, Oscar decided to seek asylum in the U.S. based on his fear that he would be a target in Guatemala.  “The military retains great power in his native land and most atrocities from the 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996, have gone unpunished.”  He has a pro bono attorney, R. Scott Greathead, and his asylum interview is set for June 21, 2012. 

Given that his case is so high profile, he probably has a good chance for success.  But one issue will be that his father has been living in Guatemala for all these years and has testified against the soldiers responsible for the Dos Erres massacre (one of the soldiers was sentenced to 6,060 years in prison).  If the father lives in Guatemala in relative safety, it may be difficult for Oscar to demonstrate that he will face harm.

It seems to me that another basis for him to remain in the U.S. is humanitarian asylum (I imagine he is also eligible for Cancellation of Removal if his case ends up before an Immigration Judge).  Under humanitarian asylum, Oscar could remain in the United States if he demonstrates “compelling reasons for being unwilling or unable to return to the country arising out of the severity of the past persecution.”  It may be a bit novel, but the facts of the case–his family’s massacre, his abduction by the man (at least partly) responsible for their deaths, and growing up with that man’s family–may constitute compelling reasons why Oscar cannot return to Guatemala. 

With humanitarian asylum, even if it is now safe for Oscar to return to Guatemala, he can obtain asylum based on the severity of the persecution he previously suffered.  What is interesting here is that Oscar did not know until recently that he had been persecuted.  Generally, asylum seekers are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and here–where the harm was so severe–humanitarian asylum seems appropriate.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

About The Author

Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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