The Strange Case of Ramon Escobar

Alien accused of murder and attempted murder in L.A.

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 27, 2018

According to the Huffington Post, Ramon Escobar is a 47-year-old Salvadoran. He is also a "convicted felon who has been repeatedly deported from the United States, [and] faces three counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder in a case investigators plan to present to prosecutors." Exactly why he is in the United States is a mystery, but one that points out some significant flaws in our immigration system; flaws that were allegedly used to enable the perpetrator to inflict violence on the most underprivileged members of our society.

The CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, where the offenses occurred, detailed those crimes, which involved attacks primarily on homeless people:

The attacks on three homeless men in downtown Los Angeles occurred on Sept. 16. Two of the men died with the other still in the hospital in critical condition.

The other attacks included a Sept. 8 assault of a person sleeping on the beach in Santa Monica, with the victim released from the hospital; a Sept. 10 attack on a man also sleeping on the beach in Santa Monica, with that man still in a coma; and the Sept. 20 fatal beating of 39-year-old Steven Cruze Jr. of San Gabriel, under the Santa Monica Pier.

The local ABC affiliate notes: "Several of the attacks were carried out with a baseball bat and at least one with a set of bolt cutters."

Those crimes hit home for me, as I was in Santa Monica for work a week before those attacks occurred, and participated in a debate on the pier itself. There is a significant population that sleeps under blankets on the beach and around the pier, and Escobar would have had no lack of targets. The suspected motive for those attacks was robbery.

Nor were his purported crimes limited to Los Angeles. According to CBS:

Escobar is also wanted for questioning in the disappearances of his aunt and uncle in Houston, Texas, in late August.

After police questioned him he took off. Arriving in California on Sept. 5.

ABC reports that Escobar was originally ordered deported from the United States by an immigration judge in February 1988. He was subsequently removed to El Salvador six times between 1997 and 2011, but those were not his only brushes with the legal system. ABC states that Escobar "also has six felony convictions for burglary and illegal reentry."

Reuters quotes a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson who fills in some additional details about those convictions: "Escobar spent five years in prison in Texas, from 1995 to 2000, on a burglary conviction, and was arrested on suspicion of assault and criminal trespass in Texas during the past two years."

His story does not end there, however.

As reported by ABC, ICE explained:

After illegally reentering the U.S. following his most-recent removal Alberto-Escobar filed an appeal of his immigration case with the Board of Immigration Appeals [BIA] in June 2016, which the courts granted in December 2016. ICE released him from custody on an Order of Supervision in January 2017 pursuant to the court's decision.

While that provides a chronological explanation of how it is that Escobar was present in the United States to commit these alleged offenses, it does not provide a legal one. Multiple felony convictions, particularly for illegal reentry, and a five-year prison sentence will generally make the average alien ineligible for most forms of relief. Except for so-called "humanitarian relief".

And that is what Escobar apparently sought, and probably received. Specifically, Reuters states that Escobar applied for asylum, again quoting the aforementioned ICE spokesperson.

Even that does not really explain how it is that Ramon Escobar was in California in September 2018.

Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) governs asylum. Under section 208(b)(2) of the INA, however, aliens "having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitute[] a danger to the community of the United States" and are ineligible for asylum, and aliens who been convicted of aggravated felonies are considered to have been convicted of such particularly serious crimes.

And, under section 101(a)(43)(G) of the INA, a conviction for a burglary offense for which the term of imprisonment imposed is at least one year is an aggravated felony, and aliens who illegally reenter following a prior conviction for an aggravated felony are also guilty of a separate aggravated felony under section 101(a)(43)(O) of the INA. While the devil is in the details of such offenses, it is not clear how, assuming that the ICE spokesperson quoted above is correct, Escobar was not barred from asylum for his aggravated felony conviction or convictions.

Assuming that he was barred from asylum, the analysis would not end there. Under section 241(b)(3) of the INA, removal to the alien's home country must be withheld "if the Attorney General decides that the alien's life or freedom would be threatened in that country because of the alien's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." That said, aliens who have been convicted of an aggravated felony or felonies and who have "been sentenced to an aggregate term of imprisonment of at least 5 years" are barred from withholding of removal under that provision. Again, assuming that the ICE spokesperson was correct, it is not clear how the BIA granted Escobar protection.

Many Salvadoran asylum and withholding of removal claims relate to criminal-based violence. As I explained in a July 2018 post, in Matter of A-B-, the attorney general limited the availability of such claims, but that decision was not issued until well after the BIA's December 2016 order in Escobar's case.

But of course, the analysis does not end there. Even aliens who are barred from asylum and withholding of removal are still eligible for protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 1208.18. As the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) , the Department of Justice component with jurisdiction over the immigration courts and BIA, explains:

CAT protections relate to the obligations of the United States under Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. This is an international treaty provision designed to protect aliens from being returned to countries where they would more likely than not face torture. Torture is defined, in part, as severe pain or suffering (physical or mental) that is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official, or other person acting in an official capacity.

Under this treaty provision, the United States agrees not to "expel, return, or extradite" aliens to another country where they would be tortured.

CAT claims, however, can be difficult to prove. The Department of State's "2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" entry for El Salvador notes that torture is an issue in the country. That said, victims have recourse for such practices. That report states:

The law prohibits [torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment], but there were multiple reports of violations. The PDDH received 29 complaints of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the [National Civil Police (PNC)], the armed forces, and other public officials. The PNC reported that, as of August, some 20 complaints had been filed against police officials for torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As of October the Ministry of Public Security and Justice's Office of the Inspector General reported 29 complaints against police officers for alleged cruel treatment.

All of this remains speculation, however. What is clear, if the authorities are correct, is that a man whom the police describe as a "violent predator" was able to use the immigration laws of the United States to remain in this country and murder the most disadvantaged in our society for the basest of reasons: personal gain.