(ESPAÑOL) A gang informant who worked with NYPD to counter gang activity himself runs the risk of being deported. What was on track to be a routine deportation hearing in a New York City immigration courtroom Thursday turned into an hours-long administrative battle and a detailed airing of a teenager’s reasons for informing on his gang, MS-13.
Amid a flood of attention brought to the case by a ProPublica and New York Magazine report published Monday, Judge Thomas Mulligan declined to issue a ruling. Instead, he gave the teen’s lawyer a list of evidence and testimony he wants to see before deciding the case in May. The judge seemed to be sketching a path to a successful asylum claim, and mentioned an alternative defense if asylum cannot be supported.
Henry, who asked that his last name be withheld, helped police and the FBI arrest his fellow gang members on Long Island. He worked with law enforcement for about a year, until immigration authorities arrested him last August, using his own disclosures about gang membership to justify his deportation. As a known informant, deportation likely means death for Henry, whose cooperation with police is spelled out in an unsealed Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo. After eight months in detention with MS-13 members threatening his life, his case was looking so hopeless that he decided to go public ahead of his final hearing.
The ICE lawyer also argued that Henry’s lawyer should recuse himself, because he had become a witness by exchanging text messages with the FBI handler. In those messages, the handler confirmed that Henry helped get fellow MS-13 members arrested. ICE objections took up the first half of the four-hour afternoon hearing, and in the end, only Henry had time to testify.
“Once you join the gang, you can’t leave. They watch you day and night,” he said.
Henry’s attorney plans to argue that Henry committed murder under duress, because the gang leader threatened to kill Henry if he refused to wield the machete. Mulligan said there might be ways to overcome the murder admission, but Henry needed to meet a large burden of proof to justify having committed such a serious offense. He wanted to hear the full story of how and why Henry cooperated with law enforcement. If Henry loses his asylum case, his lawyer plans to argue that deporting the teen would violate a United Nations treaty that forbids the U.S. from returning immigrants to places where they will be killed. “Is duress enough to get him out? If not, there’s really only the Convention Against Torture. This is going to take a little more developing,” Mulligan said.