Calgary Herald - - NP - AdriAn HumpHreys [email protected] na­tion­al­ Twit­

A Toronto man or­dered out of Canada for be­ing a mem­ber of the no­to­ri­ous crime gang MS-13 has won a re­prieve — with a judge ac­cept­ing that his MS-13 gang tat­toos could lead peo­ple to think he’s a mem­ber of MS-13.

The de­ci­sion to grant René Pacheco an­other hear­ing to as­sess the dan­ger of de­port­ing him to his na­tive El Sal­vador means the same tat­toos that prompted his de­por­ta­tion or­der have now saved him from im­me­di­ate de­por­ta­tion.

Pacheco’s strange case started when he was ar­rested in 2016 for sev­eral crim­i­nal charges, and when Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency of­fi­cers in­ter­viewed him while in jail await­ing trial.

Pacheco, 25, whose nick­name is “Ma­chete,” boasted of his ties to MS-13, an in­ter­na­tional gang also called Mara Sal­va­trucha that is widely con­demned for lib­eral use of bru­tal vi­o­lence.

He showed of­fi­cers a tat­too of the num­ber 13 on the back of his hand. He also has a teardrop tat­too on his face, a sym­bol of­ten taken as a sign of se­ri­ous crim­i­nal­ity, and tat­toos on his knuck­les and back.

He told of­fi­cers a colour­ful ac­count of en­dur­ing a 13-sec­ond beat­ing as an ini­ti­a­tion rite and how the 1020 mem­bers of his Toronto chap­ter, known as a clique, con­trolled ter­ri­tory in the Jane and Shep­pard area of the city. His Face­book page fea­tured MS-13 gang graf­fiti.

His ad­mis­sions were deemed be­liev­able and CBSA moved to de­port him for be­ing a mem­ber of a crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Although he came to Canada at the age of six, he did not be­come a Cana­dian cit­i­zen.

Pacheco later de­nied gang ties and gave in­no­cent ex­pla­na­tions for his body ink, in­clud­ing the num­ber 13 be­ing his “lucky num­ber” and the teardrop com­mem­o­rat­ing his birth fa­ther’s mur­der in El Sal­vador. All he knew about MS-13, he said, he learned from YouTube and he com­plained he was high on drugs when talk­ing to the CBSA.

“I made a bad de­ci­sion get­ting th­ese tat­toos, not know­ing that it was go­ing to re­late to this,” Pacheco said at an im­mi­gra­tion hear­ing in 2017. “I took it as, like, a fash­ion nowa­days. You know ev­ery­body has tat­toos and I made that bad de­ci­sion of get­ting th­ese tat­toos and not know­ing what I was get­ting.

“I’m not a mem­ber,” he said. “I made a mis­take . ... In­no­cent peo­ple are dy­ing back in my coun­try and here I am get­ting th­ese tat­toos, think­ing it’s a joke, not re­al­iz­ing the con­se­quences that it brings.”

One Fed­eral Court of Canada judge up­held his de­por­ta­tion or­der in June as a rea­son­able out­come, given the ev­i­dence.

How­ever, Pacheco then ap­plied for a Pre-Re­moval Risk As­sess­ment, claim­ing he would be in dan­ger if he was re­turned to El Sal­vador be­cause peo­ple there would take his tat­toos as ev­i­dence of gang mem­ber­ship, putting him at risk from both the po­lice and the gangs.

“I un­der­stand that if some­one ar­rives in El Sal­vador with tat­toos, and they think they’re in a gang, they can kill them, tor­ture them, or im­me­di­ately throw them in prison,” he said in his ap­peal.

“I can be the tar­get of gangs there for try­ing to im­per­son­ate them. There­fore my life is in dan­ger and I have no hope of be­ing pro­tected.”

He was found not to be at un­due risk of per­se­cu­tion or dan­ger if re­turned to El Sal­vador. He then ap­pealed that de­ci­sion to the Fed­eral Court.

In a de­ci­sion pub­lished Mon­day, Judge E. Su­san El­liott noted that Pacheco’s tat­toos were the cat­a­lyst for his per­ceived risk.

She said the of­fi­cer mak­ing the risk as­sess­ment de­ci­sion failed to show ev­i­dence of a full as­sess­ment of how po­lice, gov­ern­ment and gangs in El Sal­vador were likely to treat Pacheco be­cause of them.

El­liott said the U.S. Depart­ment of State Re­port on El Sal­vador, used as part of the as­sess­ment, high­lights the “ar­bi­trary de­pri­va­tion of life” of gang mem­bers by au­thor­i­ties, bol­ster­ing Pacheco’s con­tention he would be in dan­ger.

“This was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as he would be re­turned to El Sal­vador for be­ing a mem­ber of the MS-13 gang, de­spite his post-in­ter­view de­nials of such mem­ber­ship,” El­liott says in her writ­ten judg­ment.

She sent Pacheco back for a new risk as­sess­ment by a dif­fer­ent of­fi­cer.

MS-13 was started in the 1980s by Sal­vado­ran im­mi­grants in Los An­ge­les and has had a pres­ence in Toronto for at least 10 years.

It be­came par­tic­u­larly no­to­ri­ous in re­cent months when Don­ald Trump, the U.S. pres­i­dent, started brand­ing them as pub­lic en­emy No. 1.

This sum­mer, Trump called MS-13 mem­bers “an­i­mals.” Af­ter­wards, the White House re­leased a fact sheet ti­tled: “What you need to know about the vi­o­lent an­i­mals of MS-13.”

In other speeches Trump called MS-13 mem­bers “stone cold killers, vi­cious killers” and high­lighted MS-13 vic­tims in his State of the Union ad­dress.


Tat­tooed MS-13 gang mem­bers are seen be­hind bars at a San Sal­vador de­ten­tion cen­tre in 2013.


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