Local Man Stripped of Citizenship


Envelope from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with the American flag | Image by Moab Republic/Shutterstock

A man living in Plano who allegedly participated in a massacre in El Salvador in the 1980s was stripped of his American citizenship and deported earlier this month.

Arnoldo Antonio Vasquez immigrated to Texas in 1999 with lawful status and became a naturalized citizen in 2004.

On February 10, Vasquez, 60, was deported for illegally obtaining United States citizenship. It was determined that he failed to report his immigration application for his arrest and detention for his alleged involvement in the murder of at least 10 unarmed civilians in San Sebastian during El Salvador’s civil war.

Vasquez was acquitted of direct involvement in the massacre by a Salvadoran court in 1990. However, Vasquez faced a civil trial in a U.S. federal court in 2018 after a joint investigation by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center — an agency of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dallas.

Vazquez, a second lieutenant in the Salvadoran Army in the 1980s, testified in the 2018 trial that he asked to be relinquished of command when ordered to kill civilians by a higher-ranking officer. He further claimed that he did not kill anyone at San Sebastian and was not even at the execution site.

Terry Karl, a war crimes expert, testified at Vazquez’s trial in 2018 that stripping somebody of American citizenship “has a very high evidence bar,” according to The Dallas Morning News.

The court ruled in Vasquez’s favor in 2018, but in 2021 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit overturned the previous ruling.

“Although he may have refused to actually shoot civilians, we find that the former officer ‘assisted’ and ‘participated in the commission of’ extrajudicial executions during the [Salvadoran] civil war, rendering him statutorily ineligible to assume the ‘high privilege’ of American citizenship,” the judge in the appellate case wrote in the court opinion.

On February 1, an immigration judge ordered Vasquez’s removal from the U.S. to El Salvador, according to a statement from ICE.

Vasquez’s lawyer, Joshua Turin, said that Vazquez did not commit the murders and called the appellate ruling unjust, noting that Vazquez has now been separated from his family in Plano.

“The government got its pound of flesh,” Turin remarked, as reported by The Dallas Morning News.

Robert Lynch, a field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, a division of ICE, said in a statement that Vasquez’s deportation was “necessary,” adding that “his previous involvement in an egregious human rights violation completely voids his right to U.S. citizenship.”

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