In a landmark immigration decision involving a claim of eligibility for asylum, the First Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion finding past persecution in the case of a Mayan man, based on the long history of genocide in Guatemala and related racist mistreatment.
The case, Ordonez-Quino v. Holder, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 14004, originated from the New Bedford, Massachusetts factory raid in 2007, when 361 workers were arrested and sent to Texas without being given an opportunity to obtain counsel or go forward with their removal hearings in the venue in which they resided. The client in the case, Manuel Ordonez-Quino, was represented by Harvard Law School Senior Clinical Instructors John Willshire Carrera and Nancy Kelly, co-managing directors of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services.
In its July 23 decision, the First Circuit panel vacated the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision denying asylum to Ordonez-Quino, a Guatemalan indigenous Mayan Quiché, who was persecuted by the Guatemalan military and others on account of his race and ethnicity.
In its decision, the court overruled the Board of Immigration Appeals and the immigration judge, pointing to the extensive evidence in the record demonstrating that Ordonez-Quino and his community were targeted by government forces and others during the war because of their Mayan identity and their resistance to racist attacks. The court ruled that the cumulative harm Ordonez-Quino had experienced since his childhood constituted past persecution based on his race and ethnicity, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Immigration advocates, scholars, and practitioners across the country have called the court’s decision “groundbreaking.”
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