The founder of a feared Haitian paramilitary group that had opposed Haiti's moves toward democracy lost yesterday the first round of his fight to avoid deportation from the United States.
An immigration judge in Baltimore ordered the deportation of Emmanuel Constant, who claimed to be a presidential candidate in his country. Because of a loophole in U.S. immigration law, such a candidacy could allow him to avoid being returned to Haiti.
Mr. Constant was the leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, better known as FRAPH, a militia accused of thousands of human rights violations including rape, torture and murder.
"Mr. Constant has been accused of notorious and abhorrent conduct," U.S. Immigration Judge John F. Gossart Jr. wrote in an 18-page ruling. "The forum to confront these charges is in Haiti before its democratically elected government."
Mr. Constant did not offer sufficient evidence that he was a genuine candidate for president to be exempted from deportation, the judge said.
Mr. Constant, who was one of the leaders of the opposition to the return of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, faces criminal charges in Haiti. He has said he would be assassinated if returned to the country; he had asked to be sent instead to the Dominican Republic if the judge ruled to deport him.
A lawyer for Mr. Constant said he would urge his client to file an appeal.
"I don't think that this decision was reached with a serious consideration of what the implications will be for Mr. Constant," said Hyattsville attorney Robert E. Howard. "If he is returned to Haiti, he does not believe he will get beyond the airport."
Appeals could keep Mr. Constant in jail for several years.
Mr. Constant entered the United States on a valid visa in December. Immigration authorities revoked the visa after learning that he was in the country and then arrested him.
The State Department had urged that he be deported, arguing that his presence could create the impression that the United States secretly supported his activities and was allowing him to use the United States as a base of operations for FRAPH.
A spokeswoman for the State Department said it was "gratified" by the court's ruling.
Mr. Constant was arrested May 10 in New York City and then brought to Wicomico County, where the county detention center serves as a regional jail for the immigration service.
Human rights groups and a pro-Aristide organization have called for Mr. Constant's deportation, saying it would be an important step toward holding paramilitary groups accountable for rights violations during the three years of military rule in Haiti.