(CN) - Before deporting a convicted thief, immigration authorities must consider reports that El Salvadorian police and gangs harass, persecute and kill tattooed criminal deportees, the 9th Circuit ruled, reviving a heavily inked man's bid for asylum.
Gregory Stuart Aguilar-Ramos faces deportation based on his two convictions for second-degree robbery and petty theft with priors.
He sought asylum, claiming he feared that El Salvadorian police and gangs would target him because of his "multiple tattoos" and "status as a deportee from the United States," according to the ruling.
An expert on policing and gangs in El Salvador testified that deportees like Aguilar face two to six years in jail, death or serious injury in prison, harassment by police or military patrols - even death by death squads, which reportedly operate "with the awareness of the government," the ruling states.
The immigration judge denied Aguilar's petition, citing his failure to prove that he likely faced torture in El Salvador. The Board of Immigration agreed.
But their decisions were overturned by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, which ruled that the failure to consider country conditions "constitutes reversible error."
In a footnote, the panel expressed "grave concerns" that Aguilar has been detained for four years without a bond hearing. Judge Harry Pregerson said such a detention "qualifies as prolonged by any measure" and encouraged Aguilar to challenge it.
"If he makes such a request, we remind the [immigration judge] that the government bears the burden of establishing that Aguilar-Ramos is a flight risk or a danger to the community," Pregerson wrote.