A Mexican police officer turned drug trafficker turned government informant should not be deported to Mexico where he’d face “almost certain death,” a federal appellate court ruled today.
In a 21-page published opinion, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a lower immigration appeals board decision that Guillermo Eduardo “Lalo” Ramirez Peyro, whose infiltration into the notorious Vicente Carillo Fuentes drug syndicate led to the arrest of approximately 50 drug traffickers, was removable from the U.S.
The decision comes almost six years to the day since Ramirez Peyro, then working as an informant for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, first participated in a murder at the infamous “House of Death” in Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, and marks the second time the appellate court had ruled on the controversial case.
On August 5, 2003, Ramirez Peyro, while working undercover, handed a plastic bag to two Chihuahua state judicial police officers who struggled to strangle a man at the house. The police officers eventually killed the man while the informant looked on, according to government documents.
Ramirez Peyro, who secretly recorded the killing, notified his handler, an ICE agent named Raul Bencomo. After high-level review of the situation, which included officials at ICE headquarters in Washington D.C., the informant was told to continue his work, according to court documents. And the killings at the House of Death continued.
A dozen bodies were recovered from the property, and the case almost led to the killing of a DEA agent. Bencomo, meanwhile, was fired by ICE and is fighting to get his job back.
The case caused friction between the offices of ICE and the Drug Enforcement Administration and led to the reprimand of several agents, including retired DEA agent Sandalio “Sandy” Gonzalez, who blew the whistle on the case when he was the special-agent-in-charge of the DEA’s El Paso field office. Ramirez Peyro, who had two attempts on his life, was placed in protective custody in 2004 and in removal proceedings in early 2005. For the past few years he has been in a Minnesota jail.
Twice an immigration judge in Minnesota found Ramirez-Peyro should not be deported to Mexico based on the likelihood that he would be tortured or killed there by Mexican police. Twice the government appealed. And twice the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the immigration judge’s decision.
The appellate court, in its opinion, found that the immigration board disregarded several relevant findings because of a narrow interpretation of the law and inappropriately limited its analysis. The court granted Ramirez Peyro’s request for his case to be reviewed, vacated the board’s opinion, and remanded the case “for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Ramirez Peyro, who spoke by phone today about the decision, sounded exasperated that the case now heads back to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the prospect of more time waiting in jail.
“Dios mio,” he said. “I think it will be maybe two more years of sitting inside.”