Monday, August 22, 2011

Campaign Rachets Up Defense of Victor Toro

By Teresa Gutierrez
Published Aug 17, 2011 5:07 PM

The next phase of the campaign to stop the deportation of Victor Toro, a 69-year-old Chilean activist and revolutionary, is being launched.

Diana Crowder, coordinator of the campaign, stated that the Victor Toro Defense Committee has been meeting frequently to lay out new and exciting plans to re-energize the movement for Toro. Toro’s defense team has had a new boost with the addition of the City University of New York School of Law’s Immigrant Refugee Rights Clinic, which has taken on Toro’s case as legal representative.

Toro was arrested by U.S. border patrol agents on July 5, 2007, while on an Amtrak train in Rochester, N.Y. The Committee states that he was racially profiled, asked for papers and detained.

Toro and his spouse, Nieves Ayress, are both longtime freedom fighters. In Chile, Toro was instrumental in struggles for basic survival in his community, including the fight for water and housing. Ayress is a longtime activist for women’s and Indigenous rights.

They both organized and fought against the U.S.-backed dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in the 1970s, and were forced to leave Chile as a result of brutal torture and a wave of repression against the political movement. Tens of thousands of Chileans were massacred at the time.

But Ayress and Toro never gave up fighting for the rights of the workers and oppressed. They are founders of La Peña del Bronx and active organizers in the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights. You will see both at demonstrations on every single struggle, whether it is against U.S. wars abroad or support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Cuban Five and other political prisoners.

Toro and his family, along with his supporters and legal team, have carried out an aggressive legal and political challenge to demand political asylum. However, in March Judge Sarah Burr denied Toro’s request for asylum. He now faces possible deportation at any time.

This denial is a blow to the struggle for justice not only for Toro, but for all the undocumented and documented immigrants for whom he has fought so hard.

The evidence presented, along with Toro’s testimony, was of such magnitude that no objective judge could have denied the petition for asylum presented by the Chilean former political prisoner. The Defense Committee is demanding that Toro be allowed to remain in the U.S., since deportation back to Chile would uproot him from his family and community in the Bronx. In addition, he faces repression and even the danger of being killed if he is returned to Chile, as the repressive apparatus from the Pinochet era still looms there in the shadows.

Judge Burr concluded that Toro took too long in presenting his application for political asylum and that the political conditions in Chile have sufficiently changed so that Toro can return to Chile without problems. This conclusion completely ignores the testimony presented by Toro and his defense team.

Toro’s legal team had expressed concern that an accusation of terrorism by the prosecution, though unfounded, would not allow for the case to be judged justly and objectively. Lawyers for the Department of Homeland Security had introduced the idea that Toro was linked to terrorism or was a terrorist himself. Burr’s decision shows that the Committee’s concerns were valid.

How can the denial of Toro’s political asylum request be justified — especially for a man whose political and social work represent the very essence of what political asylum should be for? How can they ignore the persecution and suffering felt by Toro during the military dictatorship of Pinochet, a dictatorship that was financed by the U.S.? How can the risk he faced as a target of Operation Condor — the infamous and bloody campaign of political repression in the 1970s devised by the U.S. for Latin America — be minimized?

How you can help

The Victor Toro Defense Committee is urging progressives, immigrant rights and labor activists, anti-war organizers and all people of conscience to demand no deportation of Victor Toro. Letters asking for support are being written to various members of Congress, especially the New York state representatives.

A postcard is being drafted by the Committee to send to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as well as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. An online petition is also being worked on and will be ready to go soon.

Supporters can also help by getting union members, faith-based leaders, anti-war organizations and others to sign on to support Toro remaining in the U.S. Toro, Ayress, his lawyer and other members of the Committee are available for press interviews or to speak at events to help get the word out.

For a copy of the petition, brochure, or postcard or to get involved with the work, please visit or call 718-292-6137.

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