CLEVELAND – An immigration judge Wednesday ordered John Demjanjuk, a retired auto worker accused of being a Nazi concentration camp guard, deported to his native Ukraine, bringing him a step closer to being removed from the U.S. after a 30-year legal battle.
Demjanjuk, 85, has been fighting to stay in this country since the 1970s. He was suspected for a time of being the notoriously brutal guard known as Ivan the Terrible and was nearly executed in Israel.
Chief U.S. Immigration Judge Michael Creppy ruled that there was no evidence to substantiate Demjanjuk's claim that he would be tortured if deported to his homeland. He said Demjanjuk should be deported to Germany or Poland if Ukraine does not accept him.
Demjanjuk can appeal the ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days.
Demjanjuk lost his U.S. citizenship after a judge ruled in 2002 that documents from World War II prove he was a Nazi guard at various death or forced labor camps.
His attorney had argued at a hearing last month that sending Demjanjuk back to Ukraine would be like throwing him "into a shark tank."
John Broadley, Demjanjuk's lawyer, said Wednesday's ruling is the judge's final order in the case. It was required before a June ruling authorizing the government to deport Demjanjuk could be appealed.
Broadley said he had not read the entire ruling issued Wednesday, but that Demjanjuk would appeal Creppy's earlier decision.
Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said the judge's decision "brings the government one step closer" to removing Demjanjuk from the United States.
Authorities first tried to deport Demjanjuk in 1977, accusing him of being Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka concentration camp. Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel, convicted and sentenced to hang, but the Israeli Supreme Court found that someone else apparently was Ivan.
Demjanjuk returned the United States and his U.S. citizenship was restored before being lifted again.
The current case is based on evidence uncovered by the Justice Department alleging he was a different guard. Demjanjuk has denied the allegations.
An official with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based Jewish group dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, said Wednesday's ruling was important to resolving the case.
"Justice in this case is long delayed," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center. "No one should confuse anything happening to John Demjanjuk as anything but justice. It's not vengeance."