SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Immigration authorities improperly burdened a Mexican immigrant with proving he could not safely relocate in Mexico for fear of being tortured, a Ninth Circuit panel found.
In their 28-page opinion issued Jan. 18, Circuit Judges Andrew Kleinfeld, Jacqueline Nguyen and Paul Watford ordered the Board of Immigration Appeals to apply the correct standard, which requires the petitioner prove a likelihood of torture but not that he’d be unable to safely relocate to Mexico to avoid future harm.
The Mexican immigrant came to the United States legally as a child and grew up in San Pedro, California. While the rest of his family became American citizens he never naturalized, and was deported in 1998 because of felony convictions for methamphetamine possession and receiving stolen property.
The man had a run-in two years after he moved back to the Mexican state of Michoacan, when he refused to give robbers his gold watch and everything in his pocket. The robbers beat him up and threw him off a bridge, which left the man with a broken nose, broken teeth and a head wound requiring more than a dozen stitches.
The man’s assailants also issued a warning: “Hey puto, no one messes with the Familia Michoacana.” He reported the assault to the police when he got out of the hospital, but officers took no action. His cousin was kidnapped by the drug cartel the following year, and a couple years after that his neighbor was murdered for refusing to pay extortion.
In 2006, the man was held hostage in his own home by four off-duty police officers who demanded money from him. They locked him in a bathroom for two days, and then told him to call his family for money. He called him mother in the United States, who said she didn’t have any money. His captors then burned him with cigarettes and hit him with the blunt side of a machete, according to the panel’s summary.
But when the man made an anticorruption remark to the police, saying, “I don’t pay no corrupt cops, nothing,” the torture became much worse. The policemen put two scorpions on the man’s legs, which stung him and left him feverish, swollen and unable to breathe without difficulty.
The policemen then rubbed a dried corncob on his forehead, which made him bleed and left a permanent scar. They threatened to cut his head off and slashed his leg, causing a deep wound. The man was locked in the bathroom again and passed out from pain.
The next day, the police officers were gone and the man made it outside. Two local medical clinics refused to treat him when they learned police tortured him, and he had to travel an hour for treatment. He was hospitalized for two weeks and a month later fled to the United States, reentering with a false passport. He was caught in 2010 and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At his 2012 hearing before the immigration judge, the man provided medical evidence of his torture which the judge found to be credible. But that judge denied his request to withhold deportation, finding the torture incident was “solely an effort to extort money by rouge police officers and not because of an expressed or implied political opinion” – noting the threat came from off-duty officers and not the government.