ICE, Justice Department playing with cards up the sleeve in high-stakes deportation case

Concern over U.S. government’s latest jailhouse deal prompts House of Death informant to contact Narco News

Over the weekend, Narco News received a call from an inmate at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center, located in Batavia in upstate New York.

The caller was Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, who is familiar to anyone who has been following the House of Death case over the past five-plus years.

“I have no contact with anyone,” Ramirez Peyro told Narco News. “I’m isolated, with no TV, not even a newspaper anymore … in the Special Housing Unit. I can come out of the cell only to use the shower and, at times, the phone.”

A note of duress could be heard in his voice, as he informed Narco News that the Justice Department-controlled Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) was expected to make a decision in his case soon. Ramirez Peyro also said U.S. government attorneys are arguing that his case should, once again, be returned to an immigration judge for yet another fact-finding assessment of the potential danger he faces, or lack of it, if deported to Mexico.

And although Ramirez Peyro, a former government informant, has over the past five years twice secured favorable rulings from an immigration judge, he fears the U.S. government, specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has a slight-of-hand in store for him this time around that is designed to assure his third spin of the wheel of justice will not be so successful.

The Stakes

Ramirez Peyro has been locked away in a jail cell since shortly after ICE initiated the deportation proceedings against him in 2005. He faces no charges other than the accusation that he is in the country illegally. But for some five years prior to 2005, Ramirez Peyro worked as an ICE informant, traveling freely under ICE authority in the U.S.

However, in 2003 and early 2004, he got caught up in the darkest side of the drug war as part of an ICE assignment to infiltrate a cell of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) narco-trafficking organization in Juaerz, Mexico. As part of that effort, Ramirez Peyro wound up overseeing multiple murders at a house in Juarez — a house where authorities later dug up the decomposed bodies of 12 homicide victims.

Ramirez Peyro (along Mexican police) participated directly in at least three of those murders while working for ICE — and with ICE officials being made aware of their informant’s participation, according to public records as well as Ramirez Peyro’s own statements. However, high-level officials at ICE and the Justice Department approved the continued use of the informant Ramirez Peyro.

As a result, Ramirez Peyro has become a bit of a thorn in the side of the brass at ICE, as well as the Department of Justice — since the House of Death murders took place under the watch of former U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in Texas and his minion assistant U.S. attorneys, some of whom still work for DOJ.

The murders played out during the course of an ICE-led investigation into a VCF cell that was headed by now-jailed Heriberto Santillan Tabares — who cut a plea deal with Sutton’s office that resulted in murder charges against him disappearing.

If Ramirez Peyro were to be granted relief from deportation, and allowed to remain in the United States, he could become a particularly troubling future witness — in the event a grand jury is ever empanelled to hear evidence against U.S. government officials who might be deemed complicit in the cover-up of their roles in the murders (and near assassination of a DEA agent) at the House of Death in Juarez.

So, it seems, deporting Ramirez Peyro to Mexico would spare the U.S. government that great international embarrassment as well as assure no one currently at ICE or the Justice Department (or any past employees now working lucrative private-sector jobs or enjoying healthy government pensions) would find themselves in the crosshairs of an obstruction-of-justice, or even a murder, investigation.

Tortuous Course

Ramirez Peyro, a former Mexican police officer, has twice now appeared before an immigration judge in Minnesota who found that he should be granted deferral from deportation under the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT). The judge granted the relief because of the credible facts showing that, if returned to Mexico, Ramirez Peyro will be murdered by the drug traffickers he betrayed — likely at the hands of Mexican law enforcers who work for, and are part of, Mexico’s narco-trafficking matrix.

However, the U.S. government appealed the judge’s rulings to the Justice Department-controlled BIA, which has twice now ruled against Ramirez Peyro. In addition, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled twice, in the wake of the negative BIA rulings, to remand Ramirez Peyro’s case back to the BIA for further proceedings, with specific instructions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals latest opinion, issued in early August of last year, instructed the BIA to review its findings with respect to the legal construct of “under color of law” — which the BIA contorted to justify its most recent ruling against Ramirez Peyro.

Essentially, the government lawyers arguing ICE’s case contend that even if Mexican law enforcers do torture and murder Ramirez Peyro, such a slaying would be carried out as part of their own enterprise and would not be officially sanctioned by the Mexican government, and hence not carried out “under the color of law.”

From the Eight Circuit’s August 2009, opinion:

… The Government argues that the BIA correctly applied the under-the-color-of law standard … when determining that [Mexican] law enforcement officers’ harm of Ramirez Peyro would not be in their official capacities.

… As a result of employing too narrow a definition of “under color of law,” the BIA disregarded these IJ findings and improperly made its own determinations regarding the nexus between the officers’ official duties and the harm that they would likely inflict upon Ramirez Peyro.

“Given this error,” the appeals court ruled, “we remand the case to the BIA to allow the agency to properly apply the IJ’s [immigration judge’s] factual findings to the correct under-color-of-law standard….”

As a result, the BIA is supposed to re-access its ruling under the color-of-law standard in light of the already established case facts, which quite clearly indicate Ramirez Peyro will be murdered if deported to Mexico.

More from the appeals court opinion:

In sum, based on this standard, there are two ways Ramirez Peyro could prevail on his CAT claim. First, he could show that public officials, acting in their official capacities, will more likely than not actually inflict or instigate the harm.

Alternatively, he could show that public officials, again acting in their official capacities, will more likely than not have awareness of the torturous actions of private individuals (or of public officials acting in their personal capacities) and breach their responsibility to intervene to prevent those actions, whether because they accept the practices or are willfully blind to their commission. [Emphasis added.]

That’s pretty specific and seems to leave little wiggle room for the BIA to rule against Ramirez Peyro, again, based on a color-of-law argument, or so it would seem.

End Around

So, what is ICE to do, to assure Ramirez Peyro is not freed from prison, from an isolation cell, where he has been held now since 2005, initially in Minnesota and now in New York?

Well, its important to note what happened to Ramirez Peyro after the Eighth Circuit issued its August 2009 opinion for a clue to the answer to that question.

Within weeks of that ruling, which went against the government, ICE agents without warning transferred their former informant, Ramirez Peyro, from a county jail in Elk River, Minn. (where he had been housed in solitary confinement since the fall of 2006) and relocated him to the Buffalo Federal Detention Center.

While in Minnesota, Ramirez Peyro was subject to the jurisdiction of an immigration judge in that state who has clearly shown a fierce streak of independence by twice issuing rulings that prevented the U.S. government from deporting Ramirez Peyro.

But now that he is in New York, Ramirez Peyro claims, based on his lawyer’s counsel, that if Justice Department attorneys succeed in, yet again, returning his case to an immigration judge, this time it will be a new judge, one in New York, and likely one ICE deems predisposed to rule its way in the case — which, he says, explains his sudden transfer to the New York detention center.

Ramirez Peyro says his attorney will argue against a third remand to an immigration judge, pointing out that the Eighth Circuit’s instructions to the BIA were narrowly confined to the re-assessment of the color-of-law standard — which should not require that the case be sent back down to an immigration judge.

“The Board of Immigration Appeals set the deadline to present arguments to them for Jan. 22,” Ramirez Peyro told Narco News via telephone. “ICE is arguing that it [the case] needs to go back to the immigration judge a third time, saying there’s not enough evidence showing I will be killed in Mexico. I do not believe that ICE is not aware of what is going on in Mexico now [more than 7,700 drug-war-related murders last year alone].

“When they moved me to New York [in September 2009], they changed the venue. Now they [ICE and the DOJ attorneys] are trying to get me in front of a judge here [in New York]. I just hope the BIA does the right thing [and sticks to the instructions handed down by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals].”

Could ICE and DOJ actually get away with that kind of end-around (shopping for a new judge) after failing to get their way to date, despite years of winding Ramirez Peyro’s case on in the immigration courts?

If that’s the game plan of the DOJ lawyers handling Ramirez Peyro’s case, t hey aren’t talking.

… “Unfortunately, there is nothing else we can provide at this moment in regard to the [Ramirez] Peyro matter in that it's ongoing,” Charles Miller, spokesman for Justice, told Narco News previously.

But Ramirez Peyro’s attorney, Jodi Goodwin, doesn’t rule out the possibility that Ramirez Peyro could now find his case under the purview of a new immigration judge, and possibly even a new panel of appeals court judges — the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

With respect to the immigration judge, I think you are correct to say that it will now go to a judge in New York. … Typically the circuit [court of appeals] with jurisdiction is the one where the immigration judge sits.

So that has been the Eighth [Circuit in Minnesota] thus far. Only if the case is remanded to the IJ [immigration judge in New York] … do I think the circuit venue would change. If the BIA just issues a new decision without sending the case back to the IJ again, I think we will remain in the Eighth [Circuit].

For Ramirez Peyro, whose life is hanging in the balance, that is a roll of the dice that clearly has him on edge enough to cause him to reach out from prison, to a reporter at Narco News, to get the word out, in the event the dice don’t land his way and he winds up getting issued a one-way ticket to his own funeral in Mexico, courtesy of the U.S. government.

Stay tuned ….


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