The Board of Immigration Appeals in the United States has overturned a lower court decision to rule that Sean O Cealleagh, convicted of playing a role in the deaths of two British soldiers in 1988, can be deported.
Republicans have been incensed by the ruling, which alleged that the killings, claimed by the IRA, were motivated by “anger and revenge”.
O Ceallagh, who lives in Los Angeles, had his bond revoked and was placed in a US Federal Immigration Facility in San Pedro, California.
in a cryptic ruling still being teased though by O Ceallagh’s legal team, the Board of Immigration Appeals said: “We conclude that the respondent’s crime was not fabricated and that it cannot otherwise be considered a ‘purely political offense’”.
The decision means O Cealleagh’s case returns to the lower immigration court for new hearings.
O Cealleagh’s attorney, Jim Byrne, insisted his client would win future court hearings.
“As we have said all along, he wasn’t guilty the first time of the offense,” said Byrne. “But regardless, the nature of the conviction was purely political.”
Meanwhile, Irish-American activists are seeking to pressure on New York Congressman Peter King to act. King is the chair of the Congressional Committee on Homeland Security.
O Cealleagh was one of three men given life sentences by the British Crown in 1990 for their roles in the deaths of the two British soldiers who were shot after they were discovered spying on an IRA funeral in Belfast.
O Cealleagh, who has maintained his innocence in the killings, was jailed for eight years before he was freed as a political prisoner as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
He was never acquitted or exonerated. He immigrated to the United States in 1999 and became a permanent legal resident in 2001. He is married to a US citizen and has a son.
O Cealleagh was arrested in February 2004 at Los Angeles International Airport when he returned from a visit to the North of Ireland. He was released a few months later pending the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s appeal of the lower immigration court’s decision.
The U.S. government has argued O’Cealleagh, who was granted permanent residency in the United States in 2001, should never have been allowed in because of his conviction.