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Citizenship, War Criminals, And Immigration Fraud

– Posted in: Citizenship And Naturalization

There are no winners in wars.

It’s just a matter of degree.

Both sides lose. One side loses less.

During my law school days, one of my best friends and I discussed this topic quiet often. He had served multiple terms of duty in Vietnam and been wounded twice. I was a dove and anti-war protester.

Outsiders did not understand the basis of our camaraderie. Though our positions started from different perspectives, both of us lamented the violence of war – and detested the negative effects such violence imposes on the world for decades after the firing ends.

Even Dwight Eisenhower, a decorated war hero who rode his triumph to the White House, acknowledged a similar sentiment. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can,” Ike noted, “as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

The daily news, unfortunately, keeps bringing us back to the same topics of war-related cruelty and bloodshed.

The Immigration Legacy Of War Criminals

After war, participants often seek refuge in far-away lands. Some take on new identities, hiding their roles in carrying out war crimes. Many become residents of their adopted countries and lead normal lives in new communities.

As a citizenship lawyer, I’ve grown alert to stories of individuals who have slipped through the administrative cracks to live a second life.

The United States is not immune to such subterfuge. War criminals from a wide range of countries have slipped through immigration safeguards and acquired U.S. citizenship.

In April 2015, a former defense minister of El Salvador was deported after the immigration court found that he had participated in torture and killings by troops under his command. During his military tenure, he had been embraced by Washington as a close ally during the 1980s.  He had been living in Florida.

The officer, Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, was greeted by both cheers and jeers upon his return to El Salvador.

A lot of media coverage was given to the Vides deportation decision.

Most claimed the former general’s deportation constituted a message to the world that America would not harbor individuals who had committed violent human rights atrocities, even when performed during periods of active support for U.S. policy.

According to these news pundits, the Vides case, which had lasted 16 years, was the start of revitalized government efforts to weed out former war criminals who were able to legalize their immigration status.

The commentary was exaggerated.

From War Crimes To American Citizenship

A common misperception, even in immigrant circles, is that once a person naturalizes, they are guaranteed citizenship for life.

Not true.

Although it rarely happens, immigrants can lose their citizenship. The citizenship-stripping process is known as denaturalization.

In cases involving alleged war criminals, there are two grounds for citizenship revocation: falsification or concealment of important facts and membership in subversive organizations

Here are a few examples:

In February 2015, the International Business Times disclosed U.S. immigration officials were seeking to deport at least 150 Bosnians living in the United States, suspected of “ethnic cleansing” and other war crimes during the conflict that accompanied the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Many of them, agents claim, played a role in the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica, where some 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys were executed by Bosnian Serbs.

A few months before, a former leader of the Guatemalan Special Forces, Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa, Jr., was sentenced to 10 years in prison for lying on his citizenship application when he stated he had never committed a crime. He did not mention his role as the leader of the Guatemalan Special Forces in a 1982 massacre of 251 unarmed men, women and children.  He had been living in Moreno Valley, a city in Southern  California.

As a Riverside immigration attorney, I’m puzzled whenever I learn war criminals have been granted U.S. citizenship. This means they were able to escape detection during both the citizenship and permanent residency processes.

Twisting, omitting, or fabricating details, of course, is not a new immigration fraud scheme. Moreover, it is unlikely war criminals are the only persons who have snuck through background checks. Still, given their roles in well-known atrocities, it seems some tell-tale signs in their applications should have emerged and triggered closer scrutiny.

On the other hand, since 9/11 U.S. security procedures have become tighter. Most reported cases of war criminals who became citizens can be traced to applications filed several years ago. Presumably, fewer war criminals will get past the newer investigative methodologies utilized by immigration agencies.

If the government can identify shadowy terrorist suspects, it should be able to spot recognizable war criminals from different regions of the world.

Selective Prosecution Of War Criminals?

Consistency, most observers would agree, is not a hallmark of U.S. immigration policy. The prosecution of human rights violators reflects this glum reality.

Just one week after proclaiming it would not provide a safe haven for war criminals, the U.S. was publicly criticized for failing to pursue denaturalization actions against an acknowledged Nazi war criminal.

In 2013, the Associated Press revealed Michael Karkoc, a Nazi commander, had been living in Minnesota since 1949. Shortly afterwards a German investigation proved Karkoc directed a military unit which burned villages filled with women and children – and lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States.

Yet, despite the evidence regarding Karkoc’s war crimes and immigration fraud, the U.S. did not initiate denaturalization actions.  He passed away in December 2019 at the age of 100.

More recently, in November 2020, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld an immigration judge’s removal order of Friedrich Karl Berger, who had been living in Tennessee. He had served as an armed guard at a Nazi concentration camp, where prisoners were worked “to the point of exhaustion and death” and kept in “atrocious conditions” and worked “to the point of exhaustion and death”.

Inconsistency towards war criminals does not build international confidence in America’s commitment to human rights. Concrete actions, not hallow words, carry greater meaning on the global stage.

More significantly, such disparity fails to heal the deep wounds inflicted by war-related violence and human rights atrocities which torment families long, long after the brutality is suffered.

Rather, it prolongs the agony of those who have been emotionally and physically affected by senseless savagery.

Real compassion for the victims, reflected by a consistent policy, is necessary. Absent this guiding principle, punishment based on selective retribution sends a distorted message to the world about our true intentions.

For in a world still struggling with barbarism, commitment to humanity demands the privileges of U.S. citizenship should be accorded no war criminals.

By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics