Things have not been the same for Eriberto Mederos since he was spotted 10 years ago by a fellow Cuban-American working in a nursing home in Hialeah, Fla.
Eugenio de Sosa Chabau had vivid memories of Mr. Mederos as the man who, he says, tortured him with electric shock treatments when Mr. de Sosa was a political prisoner confined to the Mazorra psychiatric hospital near Havana.
He said the electric shocks “felt like thunder, an explosion.”
Now, Mr. Mederos could be stripped of his U.S. citizenship for purportedly lying about his past to immigration officials. He also could face a five-year prison term and a fine of $250,000 if convicted, followed by possible deportation if Cuba were to accept him.
A hearing to set a trial date was scheduled yesterday before U.S. District Judge Alan Gold in Miami.
Experts believe hundreds of foreigners who engaged in torture or other types of human rights abuses have resettled in the United States.
Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, said the arrival of torturers on America’s shores is a phenomenon that is not widely recognized.
“These torturers are terrorists in their countries and could bring that terror to America,” he said.
Mr. Foley has introduced the Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act. It would make it easier for the Justice Department to pursue and deport those found to have been human rights abusers in their native countries.
Mr. Foley said others with unsavory pasts who have come to the United States include a Bosnian Serb who was a former prison camp guard, a one-time head of the Honduran secret police and an Ethiopian security official who served a communist government there.
Mr. Mederos, who is free on $500,000 bond, won’t discuss his case now but has insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“I only did what the doctors ordered,” Mr. Mederos said in a 1992 newspaper interview. “I never did anything on my own account.”
A leader in the campaign against Mr. Mederos is Richard Krieger, president of International Educational Missions, a Boynton Beach, Fla.-based organization that attempts to exclude U.S. foreigners guilty of rights violations from this country.
Mr. Krieger said Mr. Mederos never would have been granted citizenship if he had given honest answers to immigration officials about whether he had ever persecuted anyone or knowingly committed a crime without being arrested.
“Torture has been an international crime for decades,” Mr. Krieger said.
He suggested the case could set an important precedent because if Mr. Mederos loses his citizenship, others could suffer the same fate.
Mr. Mederos, who worked at the psychiatric hospital for more than 10 years, left Cuba for the United States in the early 1980s.
After Mr. de Sosa’s chance sighting of Mr. Mederos in 1991, other former Cuban prisoners stepped forward to say that they, too, had been his torture victims.
Their stories are contained in a 1991 book, “The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba,” published by Freedom House, a New York-based pro-democracy group.
Despite an extensive public record against him, Mr. Mederos was granted citizenship in 1993.
U.S. immigration officials say it is difficult to obtain documentary evidence to substantiate claims of wrongdoing against someone seeking to become an American citizen.