An immigration appeals panel has upheld the deportation order of a former El Salvador defense minister who oversaw the torture and killings of thousands of civilians during that country's bloody civil war.
The Board of Immigration Appeals on Wednesday refused to overturn an immigration judge's order that Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, former defense minister and director of the Salvadoran National Guard, be removed from the U.S. and dismissed his appeal.
The appeals panel agreed that Vides Casanova participated in the tortures and killings of civilians from 1979 to 1989 because he was aware of them during and after the fact, he interfered with investigations of them, failed to prevent them and did not hold perpetrators accountable.
The Morning Rundown
Get a head start on the morning's top stories.
"This is great news. It's been over 12 years since Vides Casanova and Luis Guillermo Garcia (a former general) were exposed as being responsible for ordering the torture of civilians in El Salvador," said Almudena Bernabeu, an international attorney at The Center for Justice & Accountability.
"It took a humongous effort on behalf of the victims to get to this point of getting the U.S. government to start deportation proceedings," Bernabeu said.
Vides Casanova came to the U.S. on an immigrant visa around August 1989, the panel said.
The case was marked as precedent setting by the appeals court. The ordered removal of such a high level individual is uncommon and usually removals are made of people directly involved in torture or killings. Vides Casanova was ordered deported under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which prevents people who have committed serious forms of human rights abuses abroad to enter and remain in the country.
In its decision, the appeals panel detailed some of the torture cases connected to Vides Casanova. The 1980 kidnapping, rape and fatal shootings of four American nuns and a church layperson by members of El Salvador's National Guard occurred while Vides Casanova was its director. The immigration judge found he had failed to investigate.
The U.S. had backed the Salvadoran government during its civil war, so Vides Casanova had argued he should not be removed because he was upholding U.S. policies.
"What we hope is that when he gets back to El Salvador, he faces criminal prosecution there," Bernabeu said.
Follow NBC News Latino on Facebook and Twitter