Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Exile could face deportation

Posted on Wed, Nov. 23, 2005

Exile could face deportation
Santiago Alvarez, benefactor of Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, could face deportation to Cuba and loss of his citizenship application.

Santiago Alvarez, a permanent resident, could face deportation proceedings and be denied U.S. citizenship if convicted of federal weapons and fraudulent passport charges.
Alvarez, a close ally and benefactor of Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles, is being held on charges of possession of a cache of machine guns, grenades, rounds of ammunition and a fake Guatemalan passport and identification papers. His immigration status could be further complicated by a prior aggravated assault conviction stemming from weapons charges, according to experts on U.S. immigration law.
Alvarez's attorney, Ben Kuehne, said his client is not ''a convicted felon'' because his 1988 case was settled when the judge withheld adjudication. Immigration attorneys, however, say that such a ruling is considered a conviction for the purposes of immigration law.
''He could be subject to deportation on his previous conviction and may now be -- depending on the outcome of this case -- subject to deportation without any relief available to him,'' said Ira Kurzban, a Miami immigration attorney considered a national authority on immigration law.
During Alvarez's bond hearing Monday, Kuehne revealed his client is not a U.S. citizen but was applying for citizenship. Alvarez's co-defendant in the case, Osvaldo Mitat, is a U.S. citizen.
Kuehne also disclosed immigration authorities had questioned his client in recent years as a result of the 1988 case. Under changes to immigration law in 1996, foreign nationals convicted of aggravated felonies are subject to deportation.
Kuehne said Alvarez is optimistic. ''Mr. Alvarez's position is that he is a lawful permanent resident and he's confident that he will be able to obtain his citizenship when he prevails in this case,'' Kuehne told The Herald Tuesday night.
Because Alvarez is Cuban, he would not be deported immediately. But the federal case against Alvarez, a wealthy developer and exile activist, has angered many elderly hard-line exiles who believe the Bush administration is making Alvarez a scapegoat to appease the Cuban government in the Posada case. Posada is wanted by both the Cuban and Venezuelan governments for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner and hotel bombings in Havana in 1997-98. Posada says he was not involved.
Cuba generally does not take back Cuban nationals ordered deported, though Cuban leader Fidel Castro has clamored for Posada's return.
U.S. immigration authorities generally do not seek to send exiles back to their homeland, but convicted Cuban nationals living in the United States usually face deportation proceedings in case political conditions change in Cuba. If and when those conditions change, immigration officials say, thousands of Cubans ordered deported over the years could be sent back.
In some cases, however, immigration officials have asked immigration judges not to order a Cuban deported. That happened during Posada's recent asylum trial when a Department of Homeland Security assistant chief counsel told the immigration judge Posada should not be deported to Cuba because he could face torture there.
Judge William Abbott eventually agreed not to deport Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan born in Cuba, to either the communist island or to Venezuela -- but said he could be expelled to a third country.
As a permanent resident, Alvarez could ask an immigration judge to spare him deportation but only if his conviction did not amount to an aggravated felony. However, some of the charges lodged against him over the weekend are aggravated felonies under immigration law.
If convicted, Alvarez would serve prison time and then would be transferred to immigration custody for deportation proceedings. Once a judge's deportation ruling is final, he could be held up to six more months and then set free under supervision if he cannot be deported to Cuba.
The investigation into the weapons case is being conducted by the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.

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