By Liz Barney/theguardian.com – A Hawaii resident and green card holder with a past drug conviction is fighting a deportation to the Philippines, saying it would mean almost certain death under Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal anti-drug campaign.
Last month, a federal judge granted 35-year-old Herbert Carino asylum from the Philippines, where more than 7,000 deaths have been reported in the president’s deadly war on drugs. Carino pleaded that given his record, he could easily become another death statistic. The federal judge agreed and granted his request to stay, but the Department of Homeland Security appealed against the decision. Carino said they called the concerns speculation.
In Carino’s mind, he said, the danger couldn’t be more certain.
“They would send me straight to the authorities, who will ask why I’m getting deported, and they have to say because of his drug crime,” Carino said. “They shoot people on sight even if they think they were involved in drugs.”
Duterte declared a violent war on drugs when he became president eight months ago. Since then, journalists and human rights groups have described mass carnage as unarmed citizens are gunned down on the streets and in their homes. According to a recent report from Amnesty International, sources say police officers often fabricate reports, and may be paid up to 15,000 pesos per killing.
Carino left the Philippines and moved to the US when he was nine years old as part of a court-approved petition for custody by his father, who is a US citizen and lives in Hawaii. Carino spent the remainder of his childhood in Hawaii with his father, and graduated from a local high school.
But Carino fell into rough times after high school, and was convicted for selling methamphetamine in 2006. He served his time, and was released in 2011. Carino said he began a new life after he was released. He found steady work as a truck driver for a local produce company, began dating his current girlfriend and started mentoring troubled adolescents.
Then, in 2013, agents from homeland security surrounded Carino’s parent’s house. That’s how he discovered that his father, who didn’t speak fluent English, had failed to sign the necessary paperwork to finalize the citizenship process when Carino first arrived in the US.
Carino took his case to family court, where he was granted the necessary custody papers from his childhood. A federal immigration judge then granted his request for legal citizenship, but homeland security appealed the decision. The case remained in limbo for three years.
Carino continued his life without hearing anything more on the issue. He and his girlfriend had two children and made plans to marry.
Then, in December 2016, after years of silence, the immigration court overruled the judge’s decision and moved to deport Carino back to the Philippines. Once again, homeland security took him into custody.
“If you have an aggravated felony it’s an automatic deportation,” said Carino.
Carino and his lawyer appealed against the decision under the convention against torture, an international human rights treaty protecting against inhumane punishment. Under this treaty, it is illegal for states to transport people to a country where they may be tortured.
“You do not see a convention against torture being granted [often] because the standard is extremely high,” said Gary Singh, Carino’s lawyer, in an interview with Hawaii News Now on 21 February. “You got to show that very likely you will be killed.”
The federal immigration judge granted Carino temporary asylum under the treaty, but homeland security appealed against the ruling on 7 February. The decision is currently pending, and Carino was released on 15 February on a $10,000 cash bond.
Even if the ruling holds, it can only protect Carino from deportation for so long. “The asylum is the only thing that’s holding me here,” he said. “Once the president of the Philippines is out of power, they can deport me again.”
Friends and family of Carino are pleading for an exemption.
“In this immigration era, people are going to prosecute without even knowing our story of our lives,” said Margaret Watson, Carino’s fiance. During a hearing last month, Watson said friends and neighbors packed the courtroom to testify on behalf of Carino’s character. She hopes his strong role in the community will be enough to persuade the court to grant him permanent residency. They are currently attempting to raise the necessary $12,000 in court fees to take Carino’s citizenship request to the ninth circuit court of appeals.
“We try our best to not let the kids know the reality of the situation,” Watson said, “and keep them safe from what’s going on but it’s so exhausting.” When she told her three-year-old daughter that her father was working during the past two months while Carino was in custody, the child said, “Mom, dad is working so long.”
“I’ve made mistakes, but I believe people should get a second chance,” Carino said. “Some people might say that I deserve to go back to my country, but I did change. I do things for my community, I work hard to provide for my family, and I don’t want to lose them.”
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