(CN) - The 2nd Circuit revived the political asylum case of a former Guatemalan police officer who claims his life is in danger for exposing corruption in the force. The immigration judge failed to consider the officer's claims in the context of Guatemala's "volatile political history," the appeals court ruled.
Milton Ronaldo Rodas Castro claimed he faced death threats after reporting drug trafficking in his force to a U.N. human rights group.
Rodas was allegedly suspended from the force in 2001 for reporting that fellow officers bought and sold cocaine from a dealer they had been sent to investigate.
Rodas also reported the incident to the United Nations Human Rights Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), an organization set up to investigate human rights abuses in the fallout of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
MINUGUA workers allegedly warned Rodas about the dangers of reporting such blatant corruption, but he nonetheless stood by his claims.
Afterward, Rodas said Guatemalan officers threatened to kill him, made several attempts on his life, falsely accused him of stealing police equipment and murdered his brother.
Rodas and his wife fled to the United States in 2004, where they sought political asylum.
An immigration judge acknowledged the severity of the threats, but denied Rodas' application for asylum, claiming he failed to establish a connection between the alleged persecution and his political opinion.
Rodas "was not deemed politically offensive," the judge ruled, but rather was a victim of "rogue police officers" who wanted to recruit him for drug trafficking.
The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the decision in 2008.
However, the Manhattan-based appellate panel vacated and remanded, saying the immigration judge had ignored the larger context.
"[P]olitical persecution cannot be evaluated in a vacuum," Judge Gerard Lynch wrote. Rodas' claims were political in nature when viewed in the context of Guatemala's drug trafficking problems, which extend to the highest levels of power, the court ruled.
"Instead of evaluating the claim against the backdrop of Guatemala's volatile political history, the [immigration judge] short-circuited the analysis and dismissed Rodas' claim of political persecution by presuming that Rodas was targeted for his resistance to being recruited by the corrupt officers," Lynch added.
He pointed out that the officers allegedly seeking to kill Rodas were "instruments of the government itself."
The three-judge panel granted Rodas' petition for review.