Immigrant Claims that Mental Health Institutionalization in Mexico Would Constitute Torture

Above: Patients at a mental health hospital in Mexico City. (The New York Times)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied the petition of Efren Medina-Moreno on December 22, 2020. Medina had petitioned for review of the dismissal of his appeal, asserting that his removal from the United States to Mexico should be delayed because the mental health treatment he would receive in Mexico would constitute torture.

Medina is a citizen of Mexico who was admitted to the United States as a permanent resident and spouse of a United States citizen in 1970. He was convicted of attempted first-degree murder in 1992, and upon release from prison, he was released to the Department of Homeland Security, “which initiated removal proceedings based on his criminal convictions.” Medina filed applications to remain in the United States under the Convention Against Torture, arguing that he would be institutionalized in Mexico due to his mental health and that this institutionalization would constitute torture.

Medina’s application for deferral of removal was denied, which he appealed. This appeal was dismissed. Medina petitioned for review of the dismissal of the appeal.

Medina was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, “a neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory and cognitive abilities, and various physical ailments.” He claimed that he “will not have access to the mental-health treatment and family support he needs in Mexico and will therefore likely be placed in a Mexican psychiatric institution if removed” and that “that the conditions he would face if institutionalized would be so severe as to constitute torture.” To support these arguments, Medina presented evidence from a clinical psychologist describing his neurocognitive disorder and a country-conditions expert stating that Medina would likely be institutionalized in Mexico based on the psychologist’s report and describing the conditions he would face.

The immigration judge “acknowledged the seriousness of [Medina’s] conditions and the decline in his ability to function” and recognized that his “journey in managing his mental and physical illnesses will be a difficult one in Mexico.” However, the judge found that Medina did not show that he would more likely than not be institutionalized.

The judge further found that Medina did not prove that he would be more likely than not tortured in a Mexican mental health facility, though she acknowledged that “there certainly may be abuse and mistreatment that occurs in state-run mental institutions in Mexico.”

The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision. The Tenth Circuit found that “Medina’s allegations boil down to an argument that the Board gave insufficient weight to his experts’ evidence and that its conclusion that he failed to establish a likelihood of institutionalization is not supported by substantial evidence” but that “the record as a whole supports the Board’s determination” and so the court denied Medina’s petition for review.

Key words: Immigration, mental health, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), Mexico

Citation: Medina-Moreno v. Barr, 2020 WL 7587122

This post is the 61st post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School