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Torture Fears Don’t Halt Deportation

April 17, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Mor Sene said separatist rebels tore off his toenails and stabbed him in the chest when he lived in Senegal, while government soldiers accused him of conspiring with the enemy.

But when Sene fled to the United States and applied for protection under the Convention Against Torture, an immigration judge ruled he should be sent home.

His experience in U.S. immigration court is a common one.

Last year, immigration judges rejected a record 16,744 claims by foreigners who said they would be tortured if forced to return to their home countries, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, part of the Justice Department.

The judges allowed 558 people to stay under new immigration rules adopted by the United States under the convention in 1999. In 2001, immigration judges granted 544 requests and denied 11,929.

The international treaty has been ratified by more than 120 nations that have pledged to punish torturers and protect victims.

Immigration lawyers say the U.S. numbers show that the convention, designed as a last-resort for refugees who don’t qualify for political asylum, provides relief to only a fraction of the people it was intended to help.

``I have no doubt that people are being sent into danger,″ said Morton Sklar, director of the World Organization Against Torture USA.

Judges have many reasons for turning cases down, said Kathleen Sullivan of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, including a U.S. law requiring non-citizens to show they are ``more likely than not″ to be tortured if removed from the United States.

They also need to show evidence of government involvement in their persecution, a ruling Sullivan said prevents women fleeing domestic violence from qualifying as torture victims.

In Sene’s case, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals questioned his credibility and noted he had been tortured by rebels, not the government. The court said he might avoid trouble by moving to a part of the country less affected by war. The decision wasn’t final and the case is pending.

Backers of the law said courts treat many immigrants’ claims with skepticism for a reason.

In another 3rd Circuit case, a man claimed he would be tortured if deported to Haiti because he had been a member of the island’s dreaded secret police, the Tontons Macoutes. To bolster his claim, he offered photographs of himself walking with Francois ``Papa Doc″ Duvalier, a dictator who tortured and killed thousands.

Unsympathetic judges ruled that Marc Pierre Joseph Miguel, who had been convicted of trafficking cocaine, should be sent home.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that lobbies for stricter controls on immigration, said the system set up to screen dubious claims works well.

``We also have seen nothing that indicates that any people who have been removed from the country as a result of an unsuccessful torture claim have in fact been subjected to torture when they were sent back,″ spokesman Jack Martin said.

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On the Net:

Executive Office for Immigration Review: http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir

Federation for American Immigration Reform: http://www.fairus.org

World Organization Against Torture USA: http://www.woatusa.org/uscomp.html

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