Photo: Victor Toro
In the 1970s, a leader of Chile’s Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) was tortured by the then-dictator, Augusto Pinochet’s government. He was expelled from the country after the torture, and has lived the last 27 years in the United States. Now, he is facing deportation, and lives in fear with the thought of going back to a country in which some of his torturers still remain in power.
Now 68, Victor Toro was tortured by the Pinochet government in Chile for co-founding MIR and called a terrorist. He was blindfolded for months at a time, and had his genitals electrically shocked. He even faced a firing squad twice, but each time the guns were loaded with blanks. When he was released in 1977, he was sent out of the country and declared dead. Toro made his way across the Rio Grande in 1984, and became an advocate for immigrant rights. He has lived in the U.S. ever since.
Things changed when, in 2007, he was arrested on an Amtrak train near Buffalo after not being able to provide immigration documentation. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took him to court where their lawyers argued that MIR, the anti-Pinochet group Toro co-founded, was a terrorist organization.
Earlier this month, Immigration Court Judge Sarah Burr denied Toro’s plea for asylum, and stated that he should have applied for it when he first arrived. She ordered him to return to Chile. She stated that he should have applied for citizenship within a year of arriving or before 1997. In her written ruling, Judge Burr stated that Chile is a different country than it was in the ‘70s and that it was safe for him to return. Burr even called her own ruling “regrettable.”
“I feel scared to go back,” said the now-grayed grandfather. “I’m still legally dead there.”
Toro’s lawyer, Carlos Moreno called the March 2nd ruling a “serious blow,” adding, “This ruling is patently unfair and sets aside the weight of the evidence.”
Toro says he did not apply for asylum, because the U.S. had briefly labeled MIR a terrorist organization, and even backed Pinochet tacitly for years.
President Obama is set to travel to Santiago later this month, and Toro and Moreno are asking the White House to intervene, arguing that the U.S. government owes him after supporting Pinochet while he was murdering and torturing people, including women and children.
The South Bronx activist believes that the judge was swayed by the prosecution claiming he was a terrorist. “The fear of being soft on terrorist activity is probably was caused the judge to make this ruling.”