February 10, 2010

Salvadoran citizen wins Convention against Torture appeal because of tattoos

Gregory Stuart Aguilar-Ramos is a thirty-eight year old citizen of El Salvador. He has been a permanent legal resident of the United States since he was seven years old. He was ordered deported in 2005 because of two criminal convictions.

Aguilar-Ramos has spent the past four years in ICE detention fighting his case. Aguilar-Ramos is contesting his deportation order on the grounds that he faces persecution in El Salvador because of his tattoos. Initially, the Bureau of Immigration Affairs denied both his application for asylum and his request for relief under the Convention against Torture (CAT). Aguilar-Ramos appealed this decision, and won his most recent appeal.

On February 4, 2010, the 9th Circuit Court granted his appeal and sent his case back to the Bureau of Immigration Affairs to reconsider his application for relief from deportation under provisions set forth in the Convention against Torture. Specifically, the 9th Circuit Court decision requires the BIA to consider the persecution Aguilar-Ramos would face in El Salvador because of his tattoos. It is unclear at this point what the outcome will be for Aguilar-Ramos. However, it is heartening to see that US courts are taking into account some of the potentially onerous consequences of deportation.

In 1990, when Aguilar-Ramos was nineteen years old, he pled guilty to second degree robbery. He was not deported in 1990, likely because his crime did not qualify him for deportation in 1990. In 2003, Aguilar-Ramos pled guilty to petty theft. In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) ordered Aguilar-Ramos deported on two grounds: (1) conviction of an aggravated felony based on the 1990 robbery conviction, and (2) conviction of two crimes of moral turpitude, based on his 1990 robbery conviction and 2003 petty theft conviction.

Aguilar-Ramos contested his deportation, in light of his fear of being killed, persecuted, and harassed in El Salvador because of his multiple tattoos and status as a deportee. In El Salvador, police and gang members would presume he is a gang member, even though he is not. El Salvador’s punitive anti-gang laws mean that, upon deportation, Aguilar-Ramos could face: “(1) imprisonment for two to six years under El Salvador’s broad anti-gang legislation; (2) death or serious bodily harm in prison; (3) harassment by police and military patrols who routinely force young men to remove their shirts for tattoo inspections; and (4) death at the hands of death squads, which are comprised of off-duty police and military personnel.” (US Court of Appeals)

Aguilar-Ramos filed appeal after appeal, and has been detained by immigration authorities for four years without a bond hearing while filing his appeals. In a February 2010 ruling, the ninth circuit court of appeals granted Aguilar’s petition for review for his application for relief under the Convention against Torture. His case will now be heard again by an immigration judge.

Aguilar-Ramos’ case is exemplary of the faults with the system of deportations. Aguilar-Ramos qualified for citizenship when he was twelve years old, after having been a legal permanent resident for five years. From the legal reports, it is unclear why he did not apply. However, it is hard for me to find fault with a twelve year old for not filing his citizenship application.

When he was nineteen, Aguilar-Ramos pled guilty to second degree robbery. However, he managed to stay out of trouble with the law for thirteen years, when he was convicted of petty theft in 2003. In 2005, he had his day in immigration court, and was ordered deported. He was placed in ICE detention, where he spent four years appealing his order of deportation. That is a long time for someone to be locked up, after having completed both of his sentences.

Aguilar-Ramos was rightfully fearful of what could happen to him upon arrival in El Salvador with his visible tattoos. For many deportees, deportation is a life sentence. They often are forced to return to a country where they have no ties, and, often, where their status as a deportee will stigmatize them.

For these reasons, deportation only should be ordered in the most serious of cases. And, before ordering a person deported, it is essential to take into account their ties to their country of birth, their ties to the United States, and the possibility that they will be persecuted upon arrival in their home country. Hopefully Aguilar-Ramos’ case will set a precedent, as tattooed deportees are sent daily to Central America where they face persecution and stigmatization.

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