Summary of the Immigration Court Decision in the Removal Case of Former General Jose Guillermo Garcia-Merino

"After eight days of hearings in December 2012 and February, 2013 in Miami, FL, Immigration Judge Michael C. Horn issued an order of removal for former Salvadoran Minister of Defense General Jose Guillermo Garcia-Merino. Judge Grim issued the finding on February 26, 2014. This decision was not made available to the public. As a result, the New York Times and Times reporter Julia Preston sued the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review for release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The Department of Justice agreed to the release of the opinion this week.

Judge Horn’s opinion, like that of Judge Grim who presided over the removal proceeding of former General and Minister of Defense Eugenio Vides-Casanova, is a collection of some of the most heinous crimes committed in El Salvador in the 1980s. In a hard-hitting and powerful decision, J. Horn held former General Garcia responsible for these crimes as the Minister of Defense. As Judge Horn expressed it, “As head of the armed forces and the most powerful person in El Salvador, [Garcia] fostered, and allowed to thrive, an institutional atmosphere in which the Salvadoran Armed Forces preyed upon defenseless civilians under the guise of fighting a war against communist subversives.” Decision p. 48. His detailed summary of the evidence in the case formed the backdrop to his comprehensive legal analysis and decision. Garcia, like former General Vides Casanova, was charged with and found removable as an alien who “committed, ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the commission of any act of torture” or “extrajudicial killing” under section 237(a)(4)(D) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). ... 

J. Horn’s ruling on the El Mozote massacre is particularly important in light of the recent reopening of an investigation in El Salvador of the massacre. J. Horn was particularly searing in his description of the massacre. Decision, pp. 24-26, 55-56. The operation, codenamed “Operation Rescue,” led to the killing of 1000 civilians, a massacre “appalling in scale and “severity.” J. Horn took special note of the crime because of the “ruthless conduct” of the military, “the systematic way” it was carried out, the “brazen cruelty” against the victims, many young children and women, and the fact that bodies were left unburied. As J. Horn stated, “The very notion that the terror visited upon the peasants of El Mozote could be considered some sort of “rescue” underscores the pervasive and ongoing antagonistic attitude of the Salvadoran military toward the civilian population of El Salvador, an attitude that [Garcia] was responsible for creating and allowing to thrive.” Decision, p. 55. ... 

Forming a further basis for J. Horn’s finding that Garcia’s actions were direct, active and integral to extrajudicial killings, he surveyed several notorious targeted assassinations. He held that Garcia assisted or otherwise participated in the extrajudicial killing of Archbishop Romero." - Carolyn Patty Blum, Senior Legal Adviser, Center for Justice & Accountability, April 11, 2014.