A former drug informant who helped federal prosecutors convict more than 50 traffickers while he also aided cartel henchmen kill several people in a Mexican border town will be allowed to stay in the United States, an immigration appeals board has ruled.

Guillermo Ramirez-Peyro, a former Mexican police officer turned drug trafficker turned informant for U.S. law enforcement, must now await an immigration judge to order him released after sitting in detention for five years.

Falling in line with a recent circuit court ruling, the federal Board of Immigration Appeals on March 18 dismissed the U.S. government’s appeal of a Minnesota immigration judge’s decision that Ramirez would most likely face torture and even death if deported to his native Mexico because of his work as an informant.

‘While the record demonstrates that the government of Mexico opposes drug violence and corruption at its highest levels, it also shows that Mexican law enforcement remains rife with corruption,” BIA board member Patricia A. Cole wrote in the latest decision.

A Mexican official who were to turn Ramirez over to vengeful drug traffickers wouldn’t just be following a “personal pursuit” by consenting to his torture, but would be “breaching his or her responsibility to intervene,” Cole wrote.

Ramirez’s victory comes after five years of legal wrangling, during which time he remained in protective solitary confinement in different parts of the United States. But the decision doesn’t seal Ramirez’s fate.

Known by the nickname “Lalo,” Ramirez cannot permanently stay in the United States as he does not qualify for asylum under U.S. law. (In general, informants are not protected under the law, federal courts have ruled, leaving many former informants who face deportation fighting an up-hill battle.) Instead, he is granted temporary protection through a United Nations agreement called Convention against Torture.

In an ironic twist, Ramirez can legally live in the United States as long as Mexican police corruption — and drug violence — remains pervasive. If conditions improve in that country Ramirez could again be subject to deportation. The prospects for that, in the short term at least, do not appear strong.

Nearly 19,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the drug cartels, which have also been battling each other for lucrative trafficking routes into the United States.

Government lawyers had argued that while Mexican police working for the Juarez drug syndicate would likely kill or torture Ramirez if he was deported to Mexico, he doesn’t qualify for protection because it’s not state-sanctioned persecution. Although the BIA previously ruled in the government’s favor, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August overturned the BIA’s reversal of the immigration judge’s decision to grant the special protection.

The convention bars a country from deporting a foreign national if it is more likely than not that the person will face torture or death at the hands of the national’s native government.

Ramirez informed on the Juarez drug syndicate for both Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration. He also participated in the execution and burial of about a dozen people at home in Ciudad Juarez, just across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas, in what has been called “The House of Death.”

His involvement became public in 2004 and he received multiple threats on his life. He was placed in protective custody, and when his informant status expired he requested protection.

Jodi Goodwin, Ramirez’s attorney, said that while her client is happy about the decision, it pails in comparison to the years of being in solitary confinement.

“This is a super-huge victory that has been 5 long years in the making,” Goodwin wrote in an email to reporters and others. “At this point, Lalo is protected from being removed to Mexico where he will be tortured and killed. The next step in Lalo’s legal plight will be to attempt to force the government to finally release him from the solitary confinement he has endured for 5 long years.”

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Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.