benito.honorio

BENITO HONORIO

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A group effort, mostly through letter-writing by friends and community members, led to the release of Filipino immigrant Benito “Benny” Honorio awaiting deportation from a Yuba County Jail.

Honorio, who has been in the United States for the last 20 years, is seeking asylum for fear that he could be tortured and killed in the Philippines because of past political activities.

Although temporarily released, it remains unclear how long he will be allowed to stay in the country.

He is now on supervised release as he awaits a decision from the federal Board of Immigration Appeals to give him a second chance to appear before a judge and plead his case for political asylum.

Honorio, 44, was apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) officials in August and detained for 48 days.

He said he arrived late to his first political asylum court hearing in March 2009 after being given the wrong time by his lawyer.

The judge held the hearing and ordered Honorio deported.

“I think he should have a fair chance to finally have his day in court, but there is no guarantee,” Honorio’s new attorney, Rajat Kuver, told the Mercury News. “It can go either way.”

Honorio thought the deportation order had been removed when his former attorney requested the case be reopened.

Then on Aug. 18, ICE agents knocked on the door of his West San Jose apartment and took him into custody.

For weeks, his friends and co-workers worried that he would be deported to the Philippines, which would have meant he could not reapply for a new visa for 10 to 20 years.

But Honorio was released, almost suddenly, on Oct. 5 after his attorney received a phone call from ICE officials looking to make a deal, Kuver said.

Honorio’s friends and other community members wrote letters on his behalf; some friends sought help from Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

“If the community doesn’t get involved, Benny would still be in detention,” Kuver said. “I think that’s how Benny got released, just because the pressure was mounting up.”

Honorio is thankful for the letters of support, including statements from a San Jose police officer and Santa Clara City Councilman Jamie Matthews.

Honorio, who is a licensed life insurance agent in the state and specializes in financial services for annuities and long-term care planning, has scores of clients, many of whom are police officers.

“I still don’t know how to thank my community,” Honorio said. “I feel very blessed and have never felt so loved before.”

Honorio wears an ankle monitoring bracelet as part of his supervised release and must follow a number of rules, including checking in with ICE officials in San Francisco on a weekly basis.

He knows that he could be taken back into custody at any time for any reason.

As thankful as he is for his friends and community, he cringes when speaking about his treatment by ICE officials, according to the Mercury News.

After ICE officials failed to locate Honorio’s passport, they repeatedly asked him to sign a waiver that would allow them to request travel documents from the Philippine Consulate, thus allowing them to deport him.

Honorio refused to sign the document, knowing that the Board of Immigration Appeals could rule in his favor.

Had he cooperated, ICE officials could have obtained a passport through the Philippine Consulate within 24 hours, Kuver said.

With Honorio in custody, Kuver tried repeatedly to get the Board of Immigration Appeals to make a ruling on the second court hearing.

At one point, Kuver was told by board officials to call back if Honorio was in custody.

“It seemed like a bureaucratic mess,” said Kuver, who wrote a letter to the appeals board and expressed his frustration that the country’s immigration system “is completely breaking down.”

Kuver sent copies of the letter to Boxer’s office and the Mercury News.

Two days later, Kuver received a call from an ICE official who wanted to make a deal.

Honorio would be placed on supervised release if he signed the travel documents.

ICE would not attempt to deport Honorio until the appeals board rendered a decision.

“People came out strongly in favor of him,” Kuver said. “That really worked.”

Now, Kuver is attempting to include those letters from the community as evidence in any future hearings about Honorio’s request for political asylum.

If the Board of Immigration Appeals denies Honorio’s request for a second court hearing, Kuver will file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Kuver believes that federal officials have already established that Honorio has a well-founded fear of persecution in the Philippines.

The federal immigration official who first reviewed his case in 2005 believed Honorio’s story but rejected his asylum request, saying that Honorio did not do enough to stop acts he had witnessed.

Honorio firmly believes that certain groups in the Philippines want him dead.

If he is not allowed to stay in the U.S., he said he will seek refuge in another English-speaking country.

“There’s only one way to get out of their list,” Honorio said. “And I’m still alive.”