SALT LAKE CITY – An appeals court has reversed a decision that would have sent back to Colombia a Mormon couple who say they where threatened because of their religion and their political activity.
The ruling July 14 by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ordered the Board of Immigration Appeals to take another look at the case of Herbert Douglas Moscoso-Morales and his wife, Nancy.
The court cited a written death threat hand-delivered in 2002 to the couple’s home in Colombia.
“We know of all your political and informant activities for your Mormon cult,” the letter stated, and told them to be gone within 24 hours or be “eliminated”.
The couple fled to Salt Lake City and began their battle to gain political asylum.
The appeals court said the threat was objective evidence supporting “a well-founded fear of future persecution” should Herbert and Nancy return home.
A. Jason Velez and Steven Lawrence, Salt Lake City lawyers who represent the Moscoso-Morales family, are thrilled they have the chance to argue their clients’ case further.
According to court records, Moscoso-Morales was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his native Colombia and spent most of his life in religious activity. He married Nancy, also a church member, in 2000 and was appointed a teacher the next year at La Merced High School in Ibague, about 100 miles west of Bogota.
Moscoso-Morales said he joined the political campaign of a fellow church member, and also worked with an informal group dedicated to rooting out corruption in the local city government.
Moscoso-Morales said that in 2001, when a man told him that he should be instructing his students to become part of FARC, a revolutionary group in Colombia. He said he denounced FARC in class and in meetings with parents.
Later that year, two men threw him on the ground, threatened him and made him promise to stop participating in political activity, according to Moscoso-Morales’ testimony in the case. He received a telephone threat the same day, followed by 10 to 15 more calls during the next few months to him and his wife that he described as threatening and vulgar.
Some of the calls were particularly frightening because they described what he had been doing that day, which indicated he had been followed, Moscoso-Morales said.
After receiving the threatening letter, he and his wife left Colombia the next day, entering the United States on six-month tourist visas.
They hoped the situation would cool down, but they filed an application for asylum after learning that a member of their political organization in Colombia had been assassinated.
Immigration Judge James Vandello ruled that Moscoso-Morales was ineligible for asylum because he had failed to establish past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution.
Moscoso-Morales hopes his next round in court will end with a grant of asylum.
“We are from a country where the system doesn’t work,” he said. “Here, you have the right to speak up.”