RICHMOND, VA.—Hector Daniel Lopez Ordonez fled a violent civil war in his native Guatemala in search of a safer, better life. As a soldier, he was ordered to torture and kill people—including an infant. He refused on the basis of his political and Christian beliefs, and was himself threatened, beaten in a manner that no human should be forced to endure, taunted, and imprisoned in a hole in the ground for an extended time. He survived the incarceration and when back above ground, at his first opportunity, he fled to the United States.
After more than 20 years in the US, Lopez Ordonez lost an asylum hearing and was deported back to Guatemala. Enter Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Sam Hartzell, who agreed to take Ordonez’s Fourth Circuit appeal with guidance and assistance from Rebecca Fleishman and Ripley Rand.
Hartzell mined the record of the asylum hearing, identified tidbits of testimony and evidence that had been overlooked or ignored, and was the architect of Ordonez’s Fourth Circuit argument. He briefed the issues and in late January, he appeared in Richmond and argued the case before a three-judge panel.
In mid-April, the Fourth Circuit published an opinion holding that the Board of Immigration Appeals erred in finding no nexus between past persecution and a protected ground. Hartzell and the Womble Bond Dickinson team were able to establish that the past persecution Lopez Ordonez suffered at the hands of the Guatemalan military was on account of a statutorily protected ground: his imputed political opinion in opposition to the military’s inhuman conduct and his threats to report that conduct to human rights organizations. The case now returns to the Board of Immigration appeals for further proceedings.