Henry had finished his overnight shift in the jail cafeteria on Tuesday and was lying on his bunk listening to Spanish rap when he was called up to the administrative office. Immigration officials wanted to offer him a chance to be moved into protective custody. Henry had been waiting on this offer for the eight months he had been in jail, an informant locked up with the same gang members he informed on. But now, he was unsure whether to accept the extra protection.
The call came in response to a story published Monday by ProPublica and New York Magazine. It detailed Henry’s recruitment into the gang MS-13 as a child in El Salvador, his journey to the U.S. to plead for asylum at 15, and his decision to become an informant at 17. For nearly a year, he helped police and the FBI arrest members of his gang clique on Long Island until immigration enforcement arrested him last August for gang ties, using the same information he gave police. Labeled a snitch, he faces deportation to a country overrun by the gang that has marked him for death. Today is his final immigration hearing.
Henry decided to take on additional risk and make his story public, in hopes that someone would come forward to save him. This week, many have. Henry’s FBI Gang Task Force handler agreed to testify at his hearing. His former school principal, now superintendent of Brentwood School District, spoke to Henry in jail and volunteered to speak in court. An expert witness who charges steep hourly rates for testimony about gang culture agreed to work on Henry’s case for free.
Hundreds of people have written in asking how to help Henry. It’s a hard question to answer, because his fate is really in the hands of the immigration judge who will decide his case this afternoon. Henry may have already disqualified himself from asylum by telling police he was forced to kill a man with a machete when he was 12, as part of an initiation ritual in El Salvador to join the gang. The police turned over his confession to this murder, along with other incriminating information, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which used it to build a case for his deportation, laid out in an unsealed memo.
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