Venezuelan man asks for political asylum and receives deportation order instead
Cesar León and his wife, Eneida Simancas, at their home in Miami.
A recent high-profile deportation case comes from a man who has been living in Miami, Florida, for over 12 years. Cesar León and his wife, Eneida Simancas, have been living in the United States since 1999 and in 2007 they applied for political asylum. Now, years later, a decision and action have been recognized: denied and deported.
León fears that his life will be in danger if he returns to Venezuela because he has volunteered for a civil society organization that has been declared a “terrorist group,” by the Venezuelan government.
The group León belongs to is called the Organization for Venezuelans in Exile or ORVEX, and it regularly organizes political rallies and election related activities with Venezuelans living in the US and Spain. One of its most well-known initiatives was an — unsuccessful — attempt to get the International Criminal Court in The Hague, to prosecute Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for human rights abuses.
León applied for asylum because his visa to stay in the US had run out, and because in 2007, the Venezuelan government became increasingly hostile towards ORVEX, as this clip from Venezuelan State TV suggests.
But León’s petition was denied in 2010 and he was instead issued a deportation notice. León and his wife appealed the decision, and their petition for review of a Decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) was once again denied on March 2 of this year. León argued that “he demonstrated past persecution, and independently established a well-founded fear of future persecution,” as stated in the official documents from the hearing.
But the judge overseeing the case said he did not have sufficient proof of future persecution. The court explained that León did not have a “well-founded fear of future persecution” because he made multiple trips to Venezuela between 1999 and 2005, and waited until 2007 to apply for political asylum, thus “undermining the credibility of his subjective fear.”
Despite those trips taken more than ten years ago, León fears his life would be in danger if he returns to Venezuela.
ORVEX president Elio Aponte backs León’s asylum request. He said that in 2007 ORVEX was declared a terrorist organization by the government of Hugo Chávez, and since León is affiliated with the organization he’s practically considered a terrorist himself in Venezuela. “His name appeared on TV in Venezuela last Wednesday night on a program called ‘La Hojilla,’” said Aponte, claiming that this would put León in greater danger.
León’s wife, Eneida Simancas and her husband have been members of Orvex since 2006, the year before the organization began to fall on the Venezuelan government’s radar.
“This organization was seen by Hugo Chávez’s government as an organization trained by the CIA of the United States to destabilize the government; which is totally false, and this worsens the situation for us if we are returned to Venezuela,” Simancas said. “ORVEX was exposed in two government programs. I am there and it also shows my husband’s name, which aggravates the situation further. In Venezuela there is no state of rights - everything is driven by the presidency,” Simancas claimed.
Yet, the Board of Immigration Appeals said that the “Venezuelan government would not seek out Leon due to his involvement in the [exile] group.”
According to the EFE news Agency, the deportation of Cesar León was first scheduled for July 19, 2012 when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transported León to Miami International Airport. EFE reported that before being put on the plane by agents, Leon pleaded, he screamed and made such a fuss that an officer had him taken back to the detention center. Plans are being made to attempt the deportation again, and this time León has been warned that if he does not comply, he will be sent to a prison with common criminals.
“That is the problem with us Venezuelans,” León’s wife Eneida Simancas told EFE. “It is so difficult to demonstrate that the government of Chávez threatens anyone who makes Venezuela out to be like the underworld.”
León is afraid to return to Venezuela for fear of the government.
“My husband supported the Democratic Action Party, [which opposes President Chávez]” Simancas said. “Neither my husband nor I support the candidacy of a coup d’état candidate who has caused the loss of many innocent lives. Having these political differences causes many problems in Venezuela.”
“Sometimes it’s very hard for Venezuelans to apply for political asylum because the US government is not completely aware of the situation in Venezuela,” said ORVEX president Elio Aponte.
It’s difficult to say how many more Venezuelans are in a situation similar to León’s, but Aponte estimates that there has been about 3,000-4,000 applications for asylum since 1999 and some “100,000 undocumented Venezuelans living in the US right now.”
Most Venezuelans are afraid to apply for asylum for fear of being denied and getting deported, Aponte added. León did everything legally and by the book, and yet he is facing imminent deportation. Is this what our government is teaching us? That when one follows the law, bad things will still happen to you?
Meanwhile, members of the DREAM Act movement have not given up on saving León.
Mohammad Abdollahi, a leading DREAM activist, has posted on his Facebook page a note urging people to sign the petition for “10 urgent deportations detained at Broward for 8 months or more,” and one of the cases mentioned is Leon’s. The note reads: “Cesar León, originally from Venezuela has been living in Florida for over 13 years. Cesar has been detained since April 20th, 2012. Cesar has no criminal record; he was detained after his asylum case was rejected. ICE has already attempted to put Cesar on a plane once, his time is running out.”
It’s hard to imagine how León’s family must be dealing with everything. “We are suffering; no one can know the extent of the suffering we are going through right now,” said León’s wife, Eneida Simancas, “and if he actually does get deported, the suffering will be immeasurable.”
Simancas visits her husband at the detention center every Saturday and says that the conditions there aren’t bad, but nothing compares to him being at home. “He is not at home, he is not with his family, he is not comfortable in that sense,” she said.
Max León, Cesar’s son, has taken to the Internet and YouTube to ask for support in getting his father back home. In this short 30-second video, 9-year-old Max wrenches your heart with these words: “I need help. My dad’s been detained since April 20th. He’s never done anything bad, and he’s a really good person, and I want him back.”
Click here to find out more about how you can help Cesar León; you can help by signing his petition or calling one of your representatives if you are in Florida.
(Photo courtesy of Eneida Simancas)