By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday in favor of a torture survivor who left Mexico seeking refuge in the U.S., charging the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) was wrong when it denied her case after failing to apply the facts correctly.
Supporters claim the court’s decision in the Delfina Soto Soto case may help other immigrants in similar court fights against deportation, because not only did she win, but the Ninth Circuit ordered the U.S. to grant her relief under the Convention Against Torture.
The Immigration Judge, before being overruled by BIA, previously found: (1) Soto had suffered torture in the past; (2) she would likely be arrested if returned to Mexico, putting her back within reach of her torturers; (3) her status as an indigenous woman made her more likely to be tortured, according to the country reports; and (4) her report of the torture to the human rights commission increased her likelihood of torture.
“I feel so happy and so moved, I want to cry of happiness. My nightmare is over,” said Soto, now 42. It’s been a three-year legal battle for Soto, who was held more than two years in an immigration detention center.
But that was nothing compared to what happened to her in Mexico in 2012.
According to the SF Public Defender Office, Soto was, in a small Mexico town, “wrongfully accused of committing a crime, placed under arrest, brutally tortured, assaulted, and waterboarded.” Authorities threatened her children during the interrogation to force her into signing a false confession.
According to court documents, Mexican police officers “slapped her face, threw her to the ground, tied the plastic bag over her head until she was at the point of suffocation, and then repeated the sequence for hours. Next, the officers sat her in a chair and hit her head against the wall.”
According to Soto’s testimony quoted by the court, police first grabbed her by her hair and threw her to the ground. While she was on the ground, they tied her hands behind her back, placed her face-up, and kicked her repeatedly. One officer held her head between his knees while the others poured water into her nose and punched her stomach. The officers then put a plastic bag over her head and sat on her stomach so that she was unable to breathe.
“One officer pointed a gun at her head several times, telling her that if she did not sign a confession, they would ‘keep [her] right there like a bitch.’ Still, with the gun pressed against her forehead, Soto did not relent,” according to court filings.
But when one of the officers told her: “[I]f you don’t sign this [confession] in the next 15 minutes, I will give the order for them to go get your daughters and bring them here, first they will rape them and then they will kill them in front of you,” Soto signed the confession.
“Ms. Soto has gone through hell and back,” said Hector Vega, Deputy Public Defender and attorney for Soto in her deportation proceedings. “Rather than being treated as a survivor of torture seeking refuge, ICE kept her detained. But she never lost faith that justice would be served at the end,” he said.
The court record reflects that even though Mexican courts dismissed charges because of “lack of evidence,” Soto received death threats and fled to the U.S. for “protection under the Convention Against Torture.”
The SF PD’s office said, “Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) was unsympathetic. They placed her under arrest and launched removal proceedings. Ms. Soto testified in her removal hearing that she had been assaulted, water-boarded, and asphyxiated by Mexican authorities, and believed it would happen again if she were deported. The Immigration Judge found her credible, and granted her relief.”
But, ICE appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and it sided with ICE and called for Soto to be deported. That decision was appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
“Nothing can erase the horror imposed on Ms. Soto by the Mexican authorities, but at least, she can now live freely and safely with her family, away from harm, in the United States,” said Vega.
“The decision is a clear message to the Board of Immigration Appeals to not serve as a rubber stamp to ICE’s demands for reconsideration of grants. Time and time again, we see the BIA making cruel and arbitrary decisions, acting not as an impartial adjudicator, but instead as a tool for deportation. We hope this decision puts the BIA on notice that it must act more like a court, and less like a deportation force,” said Francisco Ugarte, Manager of the Public Defender’s Immigration Defense Unit.
Supporters explain the case will now be remanded back to the Board and then back to the Immigration Court with specific directions from the Ninth Circuit to grant the relief.
“I want more people to keep their faith and hopes when fighting for their cases. There are so many attorneys out there fighting hard to ensure people receive help and justice,” said Soto.
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