FALLS CHURCH, Va. —
A former Nazi concentration camp guard who has lived quietly in western Pennsylvania for more than 50 years took his fight against deportation to the nation’s highest immigration court Thursday, arguing that he shouldn’t be punished because he served in Hitler’s army against his will.
The Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church heard the appeal from 88-year-old Anton Geiser, of Sharon, Mercer County, who acknowledges serving in the Nazi SS as a guard in the Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps. A federal judge ordered him deported in 2010.
But his lawyer argued that the court should have considered that Geiser was forced to join the SS against his will, as a 17-year-old.
Government lawyers argued to uphold the deportation. They said federal law places former Nazis in a harsher immigration category, and no exceptions should be made because of compulsory service.
Adrian Roe, Geiser’s lawyer, acknowledged that Congress did indeed place Nazis in a separate, harsher category when it comes to determining their rights to immigrate to and live in the U.S. But he said that not everyone conscripted into the Hitler war machine is truly a Nazi.
“The label Nazi itself sort of goes to belief,” Roe said. “If they were a true believer, we don’t want them here. If they were a forced participant, are they really a Nazi?”
Geiser, who was recently hospitalized, did not attend Thursday’s hearing. He came to the U.S. in 1956 and was naturalized in 1962. He lived in Sharon, about 75 miles north of Pittsburgh, where he worked in a steel mill for decades and raised five children.
Justice Department lawyer Susan Siegal questioned whether Geiser’s service as a camp guard was truly involuntary. She said he could have requested a transfer back to the Russian front, where he initially was serving, or that he could simply have walked away from service or defied immoral orders. She said the Nuremberg trials after World War II and military code established the precedent that following immoral orders is not an adequate defense.
Most of the hearing, though, dealt not with Geiser’s actions during the war but on narrow questions of legal precedent.
The three members of the board that heard the case are expected to issue their ruling in a few months. While it is the highest immigration court, it is an administrative body and its rulings are subject to review by federal judges and the Supreme Court. It is expected that the board’s ruling will be appealed by the losing side.
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