A small crowd of protesters rallied outside the Federal Courthouse in San Diego Monday in support of a Honduran man who says he was denied asylum in the U.S. as a result of poor legal representation.
Omar Aguilar Lopez said he fears his return to Honduras, where he fled from five years ago after rising violence threatened his life. His older brother and two other family members were killed before he left, and his younger brother was detained by government officials, he said.
After coming into contact with immigration officials, Lopez filed for defensive asylum.
Lopez hired attorney Guy Grande to represent him to a judge, who eventually gave Lopez the option to proceed or accept voluntary departure, Grande said.
Lopez alleges that Grande met with him just once before his trial. Grande denied this accusation, claiming that he and employees in his offices met with Lopez “several times” before the trial.
Lopez also claims that due to language barriers and what he believes was carelessness, immigration judge Henry P. Ipema saw conflicting information in Lopez’s application and testimony. Items such as the date Lopez entered the country were then inconsistent with his testimony, Lopez and Grande said.
The two are at odds over who is responsible for the outcome of Lopez’s case.
“I recall the testimony not going our way,” Grande said. “The judge was having issues with credibility and the strength of [Lopez’s] claims. He decided on his own to accept voluntary departure.”
As to why Lopez would choose to voluntarily return to Honduras, Grande chalked it up to naiveté on Lopez’s part.
Regardless of the mistakes, Lopez said the process of gaining asylum is a biased system.
“The asylum cases are determined by the judge, so one judge might say this and another might say that,” Lopez said through translator Enrique Morones.
He said asylum should not be determined by one judge, rather predetermined qualifications – such as life-threatening conditions.
“If you’re seeking asylum and you qualify under concrete conditions, regardless of the judge you get asylum, and if you don’t qualify you don’t qualify,” he said.
Lopez plans hire another attorney, claiming he was misrepresented by Grande, Morones said.
“I understand why he’s upset. He doesn’t want to go back,” Grande said.
Others at the rally held signs criticizing the Obama administration for increased deportations since his term began. The group of protesters later joined the Occupy San Diego demonstration.