Wilmer García lived in Louisiana, his home state, for most of his childhood. He was part of a close-knit family. He wanted to join the Marines, “but that didn’t work out,” he said. So, he spent his leisure time clubbing, often doing ecstasy—the drug that ultimately sent him, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, to live alone in Honduras, where he would spend the next 15 years struggling to reenter the United States.
The Center for Human Rights and International Justice of BC Law hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday titled “Human Rights in Action: Bringing Home a Wrongly Deported U.S. Resident from Honduras.” García began the event by explaining how he and his legal team brought García back to the United States after a forceful deportation to Honduras, despite his status as a legal permanent resident.
García ventured from Honduras to the United States at 10 years old with his family. Shortly after graduating from high school—and failing to join the Marines—he was arrested for a minor infraction, a charge of possession of 11 ecstasy pills. Though he pled guilty to the charge and received a First Offender Pardon, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested García shortly after and ordered that he return to Honduras, his so-called “home,” where he hadn’t lived for almost a decade.
“Unfortunately, they couldn’t overturn the possession of ecstasy charge … according to my lawyer, that was the only chance I had,” García said.
He endured Hurricane Katrina in a New Orleans prison, without food, water, and ventilation. He couldn’t even speak Spanish well when he returned to Honduras, and he had never been separated from his family for a long period of time. An immigration officer told him that he wouldn’t be able to come back to the United States, not even for his parents’ funerals.
But once in Honduras, García knew he couldn’t give up a life in the United States—his wife, who he met and married in Honduras, gave him the faith in God to take control and get back to his family and home in the United States.
Enter Jessica Chicco—a young attorney at the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project (PDHRP)—and Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero, a litigator at Nixon Peabody in Boston and BC Law ’07. Together, the duo used the immigration intel of PDHRP and legal resources of Nixon Peabody to bring García home.
“Together as a team … we beat out the odds,” García said. “They are the perfect example of how an attorney should be.”
Chicco, who only met García for the first time in person an hour before sitting beside him on the panel, believed that the odds were stacked against him. And despite García’s unceasing optimism—he even smiled for the camera in his prison picture—Chicco found herself in the “soul-crushing lawyer position,” as she described it, of bringing García back into reality. There was a very real possibility that García’s long fight against the U.S. government would not be fruitful, according to his legal team.
Still, García and and the lawyers working to bring him back—the team also included Brianna Nassif, BC Law ’17, and Heather Friedman, of PDHRP—succeeded. García’s family, which sat in on the panel and took pictures as proud parents, looked on in relief after over eight years of legal proceedings. They even took on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the infamously conservative circuit court in New Orleans. García’s case was high profile and had the potential to set a valuable—or dangerous—legal precedent for wrongly deported U.S. residents.
“We needed to do no wrong,” Rauseo-Ricupero said.
Finally, on May 7, 2018, García’s lawful permanent resident status was restored. Today, his case has been cited 33 times in other legal proceedings. García’s lawyers maintain that his tenacity and relentlessness helped win the case, as he took on a legal fight that would help future wrongly deported U.S. residents.
“Wilmer has always kind of been the MVP of our team,” Nassif said. “He’s the kind of client that pushes you to be the best advocate you can be.”
Currently, García’s wife and three kids are awaiting green cards in Honduras for their own permanent residency in the United States, a process that Friedman estimates will take about a year and a half. Still, it’s nothing short of a legal miracle that García’s resident status was reinstated, she said.
“What was it that convinced the judge, we have no idea,” Friedman said. “That said, I’ll take it.”
At the end of the panel discussion, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice of BC Law awarded Nixon Peabody the first Human Rights in Action award for its work in setting a new legal precedent with García’s case.
Featured Image by Madison Sarka / For The Heights