Judges provide asylum path for man who alleges police wrongly labeled him as an MS-13 member

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Salvadoran citizen who alleged that the Boston Police Department had falsely labeled him as a member of the MS-13 gang. Lawyers for Cristian Josh Diaz Ortiz said the panel’s decision allows him to resume his bid for asylum, a process he began after illegally entering the US in 2015.

Diaz Ortiz was arrested in 2018 by federal immigration officials who sought to deport him using his designation as a “verified” gang member on the Boston Police Department’s controversial gang database.

As evidence, the database noted that Diaz Ortiz attended East Boston High School, which was also attended by several alleged gang members. It also said that according to the court’s ruling, Diaz Ortiz was seen in neighborhood parks where MS-13 members often met.

The court panel questioned the evidence in the database and said that the government “provided no other evidence to substantiate the conclusion drawn from the police report and the findings.”

A 5-2 decision on Monday by the US First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston directs the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals to re-examine the case of deporting Diaz Ortiz versus allowing him to seek asylum.

After entering the US in 2015, he asked immigration officials to stop his deportation while he sought asylum for religious persecution.

A federal appeals court in Boston has ruled in favor of a Salvadoran citizen who alleged that the Boston Police Department had falsely labeled him as a member of the MS-13 gang. Above, the sun sets over the City of Boston and Fenway Park on July 24, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Katherine Riley / Getty Images

The judges “cited flaws in that database, including reliance on an indefinite point system built on unfounded estimates.”

“We expect this ruling to be widely read and dealt with by the courts and judges dealing with gang packets,” Geneva Don Uel, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based firm DLA Piper, said in a statement on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu did not respond to an email seeking comment, but a police spokeswoman said the department would respond later.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, one of the civil rights groups that sued the department for making more information about the secret database public, said the ruling was based on racist assumptions that “the Boston Police gang database lives”. represents an important examination of how it destroys ,

The organization said in a statement, “Gang databases pose a serious threat to youth, especially black and Hispanic teens, who are forced to wear popular brands or even become victims or targets of gang violence by gangs.” are labeled as members of.”

The department has previously defended the database as a vital tool for tackling violent street gangs. Immigration lawyers and advocates have complained that the system, which is accessible to federal officials and other law enforcement agencies, has falsely identified many Central American youths as gang members.

Last June, police made policy changes in response to concerns including a process to review and purge the names of individuals considered “inactive” gang members and an annual public reporting requirement.

But many city councilors and community groups are calling for it to be abolished altogether. As of last March, police officers said there were 101 active gangs in and around Boston with more than 2,650 suspected members.

Diaz Ortiz stated that he was not a member of the gang, but was threatened and assaulted by MS-13 members for his Christian faith and pressured to join the gang, according to the ruling.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.