For Immediate Release: June 11, 2021
Contact: SF Public Defender’s Office – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org (628)249-7946
Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of Immigrant Woman Escaping Torture in Mexico
SAN FRANCISCO – In a groundbreaking decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today in favor of a San Francisco Public Defender client, Delfina Soto Soto, who is a survivor of torture and who fled Mexico seeking refuge in the United States. The Court ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) erred when denying her case by misapplying the facts to the law, and by applying the wrong standard of review. The decision will help other immigrants in their fight against deportation.
“I feel so happy and so moved, I want to cry of happiness. My nightmare is over,” said Ms. Soto.
The decision also culminates Ms. Soto’s 3-year legal saga, where she spent more than two years in an immigration detention center.
“Ms. Soto has gone through hell and back,” said Hector Vega, Deputy Public Defender and attorney for Ms. 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.”
While living in a small town in Mexico, law enforcement authorities wrongfully accused her of committing a crime, placed her under arrest, brutally tortured, assaulted, and waterboarded her, and threatened her children during the interrogation to force her into signing a false confession. After Mexican courts dismissed the charges against her for lack of evidence, Ms. Soto continued to receive death threats and so fled to the United States to seek protection under the Convention Against Torture. When Mexican authorities filed new charges, Ms. Soto was already in the U.S., which made her a target for arrest.
Immigration & Customs Enforcement 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.
However, ICE appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals — the appellate body which became partisan and hardline under the Trump Administration. The BIA sided with ICE, and denied Ms. Soto’s case, converting it from a victory to a deportation order.
Ms. Soto appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit, which not only ruled in her favor, but ordered the government to grant her relief under the Convention Against Torture.
“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.
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. A link to the decision can be found here.
“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 Ms. Soto.