Judge Charles R. Wilson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Judge Charles R. Wilson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Zach Porter/Daily Report)

The government was wrong to deport a former rebel fighter back to Nicaragua after he had been a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. for 31 years, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has ruled.

Circuit Judges Charles Wilson and Gerald Tjoflat—joined by U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, sitting by designation—overturned the Board of Immigration Appeals in an opinion released July 13.

Roger Ricardo Alfaro was a U.S.-trained Contra rebel fighting to overthrow the socialist Sandinista government, known for human rights abuses and mass executions, according to the decision. He came to America on a tourist visa in 1981 and was granted permanent resident status in 1982.

Three decades later, in 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) informed Alfaro that he was subject to deportation, said Wilson, writing for the court.

The main allegation against Alfaro was that he “willfully made a material misrepresentation” on his 1982 application for permanent resident status. The accusation hung on two letters: “No,” which was his answer to the question of whether he had ever been confined in a prison, Wilson said.

ICE reasoned that Alfaro’s answer was incorrect because once, during wartime, he was temporarily held in a jungle trailer by rebel fighters, possibly only for questioning, Wilson said. According to the decision, the incident in question involved the Contras moving a gang of Sandinista prisoners who were handcuffed together. They were all under fire from the Sandinistas. To allow the others to move out of the range of enemy guns, Alfaro cut off the hand of a prisoner who was already dead.

Wilson concluded that the Board of Immigration Appeals was wrong to characterize Alfaro being taken into a trailer in the middle of the jungle as being confined to a prison.

“The Contras did not charge or convict Alfaro of any crime because they lacked the authority to do so. Indeed, it is not even clear whether Alfaro was being punished or whether he was just being questioned pending an inquiry into the incident. Regardless, we hold that as a matter of law, a rebel-controlled trailer in a jungle is not a ‘prison,’” Wilson wrote. “Because he had not been confined in a prison, Alfaro did not make a material misrepresentation on his application.”

Alfara represented himself before the Board of Immigration Appeals. But he won at the 11th Circuit with the help of Rebecca Sharpless, an immigration law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Florida.

Sharpless faced the opposition of a long list of lawyers with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

The attorneys could not immediately be reached.