Ninth Circuit Invokes ‘Convention against Torture’ to Halt Deportation of Woman Horribly Abused in Mexico

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

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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20 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    When the court is faced with cases like this are we to just take the defendant’s word on it?  Is there any follow up on the facts?  So if MS-13 gang members claim they were being tortured in Mexico will the 9th Circuit just take their word and refuse t deport them?

  2. Bill Marshall

    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.

    Technical question… since,

    The Immigration Judge, … 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.

    … why remanded back?  Why not just overturn BIA decision, and affirm the IJ findings

    The Immigration Judge found her credible, and granted her relief.

    Seems silly, as it seems that the Circuit has “directed the verdict”…

    I may/must be missing something…

  3. Chris Griffith

    You failed to mention that Mexico wants her to be extradited for the murder of a five-year-old child in michoacan. She simply hiding in the United States so she doesn’t have to face charges but of course the Davis Vanguard fails to report that kind of stuff. 😲

    1. Keith Olsen

      Yes, we need to hear the other side of the story, not simply her word.

      Chris, do you have a link to the “Mexico wants her to be extradited for the murder of a five-year-old child in Michoacán” story?

      1. Keith Olsen

        Okay David, I’ll bite.  Here’s the third paragraph:

        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.

        Where in this paragraph does it state that “Mexico wants her to be extradited for the murder of a five-year-old child in Michoacán”?  Where in the article does it state the charges against her?  All I found was “According to the SF Public Defender Office, Soto was, in a small Mexico town, “wrongfully accused of committing a crime”.  Nowhere can I find what crime she’s being accused of.  Maybe I missed it…

        1. David Greenwald

          “She would likely be arrested if returned back to Mexico” – if she’s wrongly accused of crimes in Mexico and subject to torture, what she’s accused of is kind of immaterial.

        2. Keith Olsen

          if she’s wrongly accused of crimes in Mexico and IF SHE IS subject to torture, what she’s accused of is kind of immaterial.

          I FIFY.  So we do know what she’s accused of but what we don’t know is if she’s wrongly accused or if she’s actually subject to torture.  Don’t you think the actual charges against her were material to this story?  This too often happens and it’s left up to the readers to get the fuller story.

        3. David Greenwald

          I would have probably included them, but I didn’t write the story. The most important point of the story is the court reversal and remand.

  4. Chris Griffith

    I tried to cut and paste the link and it wouldn’t let me do it on my little candy bar phone but if you Google Delfina Soto Soto! You’ll find a 9th circuit Court PDF

  5. Ron Oertel

    If the allegations in this article (regarding the police in Mexico) are accurate, every citizen in that entire country is at risk and would qualify for asylum. Seems that you might be able to throw in citizens from a few other South American countries into that category, as well.

    (4) her report of the torture to the human rights commission increased her likelihood of torture.

    So if you want to qualify for asylum, you don’t actually need to be tortured – you just need to report it.

    (My comment should not be construed as questioning what actually occurred.)

     

     

  6. Tia Will

    I would not be inclined to make quick judgements here. This is not simply a case of “they said, she said” this has gone before a judge who found her testimony credible. Would anyone object to her being allowed to stay here where she would not be subject to torture while further investigation, if indeed any is needed, was performed? Is anyone naive enough to believe that she might not lie to get to stay here? Is anyone naive enough to believe that the Mexican police and whoever it is that wants her tortured or dead would not lie to achieve their ends? Why are we taking sides on a court case that no one seems to have the full details of?

  7. Chris Griffith

     

    Is anyone naive enough to believe that the Mexican police and whoever it is that wants her tortured or dead would not lie to achieve their ends?

     

    I really don’t think her fear is from the police her fear comes from the townspeople and the people who live in the state of Michigan they’re the ones that want her damn head on a stick. They want her brought back to stand trial for the murder she committed and then they’ll burn her at the stake slowly very very slowly or at least one would hope they would for killing a five-year-old child 🤔.

     

    Why are we taking sides on a court case that no one seems to have the full details of?

     

    Americans are so arrogant. This is not our call she committed a crime in Mexico it is not us to judge or convict her or find her innocent from anything this is Mexico’s call if they find her guilty so be it if they find her innocent it’s fine too but it’s not our call Americans just seem to want to put their nose in everything like they’re the world savior I say butt out of their little problem and give her back to Mexico. Could you imagine how much crime we would NOT have if we sent all the criminals back to Mexico that came from Mexico…

     

    Just One person’s humble opinion 😊

     

     

     

     

    1. Tia Will

      Do you feel the same about Americans that are captured in let’s say for instance Iran or North Korea and are subject to their forms of “justice”?

      How about if she is accused of murdering the child because she knows who really committed the crime?

      People are human and should not be subjected to torture no matter who believes it is a good idea.

      Just my opinion.

    2. Bill Marshall

      her fear comes from the townspeople and the people who live in the state of Michigan they’re the ones that want her damn head on a stick.

      Michigan, or Michoacán”?  Big diff…

  8. Chris Griffith

    Do you feel the same about Americans that are captured in let’s say for instance Iran or North Korea and are subject to their forms of “justice”?

    Any American that decides to travel to Iran or North Korea had better be prepared to die if they get arrested in either of those two countries or for that matter any individual that travels the world to any country had better be prepared to pay the price if they get arrested.

     

    How about if she is accused of murdering the child because she knows who really committed the crime?

     

    I think they call that accessory to murder and she should pay the price for that too if she is convicted of it in the country that she committed the crime in not our country.

     

    People are human and should not be subjected to torture no matter who believes it is a good idea.

     

    Are you talking about the five-year-old child or are you talking about this grown adult who killed a five year old child? Because to me a person who kills a 5 year old child is subhuman.

     

    1. Tia Will

      I am talking about the inappropriateness of torture, or the threat of rape and murder of family members in order to extract a confession. I don’t know if you have children, but I would sign absolutely anything if I believed it would protect my children. Wouldn’t you? No one should be tortured regardless of their guilt or innocence. I believe from previous comments that not everyone believes this, but it is consistent with out law and it is consistent with humane treatment. That is enough for me.

  9. Chris Griffith

    . I don’t know if you have children, but I would sign absolutely anything if I believed it would protect my children. Wouldn’t you? 

    If any child or my wife or my parents or my great-great-great-grandfathers or great-grandmothers committed murder there’s no way I would protect them and a matter of fact I would probably drag him down to the police station by  their hair I have no compassion for anybody that kills another person.

    By the way what gives you the impression that she’s hiding something or protecting someone am I missing something?

     

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