Ex-Gang Member Gets Political Asylum
Gang member turned peace activist Alex Sanchez has been granted political asylum, ending a case that was complicated by overtones of the LAPD Rampart Division scandal.
“It has great significance because we have been allowed to keep a great peacekeeper,” said Silvia Beltran, executive director of Homies Unidos, an anti-gang program.
“It’s wonderful news,” said former state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), who befriended Sanchez five years ago and testified on his behalf. “He’s helped a lot of young people stay out of trouble and out of harm.”
Sanchez, now 30, was deported in 1994 to his homeland, El Salvador, because of a decade-old auto-theft conviction and a subsequent parole violation for possessing a firearm. A year later, he returned illegally to the U.S. and eventually helped form the local chapter of Homies Unidos.
Police critics turned Sanchez’s case into a cause celebre, saying it was an example of how the Rampart Division tried to run roughshod over problematic witnesses by having them deported to prevent their testimony.
Sanchez had planned to testify on behalf of a teenager arrested by Rampart officers on suspicion of murder.
In requesting political asylum for Sanchez, his attorney, Alan Diamante, argued that his client might be killed if he was returned to El Salvador because of his links to the Salvadoran gang Mara Salatrucha and his stance against police corruption.
The police chief of San Salvador, Hayden, three anthropologists, a photojournalist and a psychologist were among the witnesses who testified on behalf of Sanchez.
Earlier this week, Sanchez’s conviction for firearm possession was vacated. Two years ago, his felony conviction for auto theft was set aside. With both felony offenses tossed out, the path was cleared for the immigration judge to grant political asylum, Diamante said.
The ruling Wednesday by Immigration Judge Rose Peters means that Sanchez will now be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, Diamante said.
“It has totally changed my life,” Sanchez said. “It’s a new beginning for me. Now I don’t have to run anymore. It’s a good feeling.”