Fri, Apr 02, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Two immigrants freed because of mental disability

‘BLACK HOLE’ In a legal loophole, immigration cops are allowed to hold people with mental illnesses for years without having to explain anything to a judge

AP , SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Two immigrants were freed on Wednesday from federal detention centers, years after judges put their cases on hold because of serious questions about their mental competence.

Attorneys who filed petitions for the release of Guillermo Gomez Sanchez, 48, and Jose Antonio Franco Gonzalez, 29, said the cases exposed a “black hole” that allows authorities to hold mentally ill immigrants for years without having to explain themselves to a judge or anyone else.

The attorneys suspected many other mentally ill detainees were being held under similar circumstances.

“There are no safeguards,” said Judy London of Public Counsel, a non-profit group that sought Franco’s release along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California. “These cases are put on indefinite hold, and you have no accounting.”

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a one-sentence statement on its decision to release the detainees from San Diego’s Otay Mesa detention center.

“After a review of their custody status, medical conditions and assurances from their families, we believe their release from ICE custody is appropriate,” it read.

Agency spokeswoman Lauren Mack declined to elaborate, citing pending litigation.

An immigration judge put Gomez’s case on hold in January 2006 and ordered ICE to evaluate his mental competence, according to a legal petition filed in federal court in San Diego by the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties and the Casa Cornelia Law Center.

ICE didn’t evaluate Gomez until February 2007 and didn’t put his case back on the court docket until June 2008, the petition said.

Last year, a judge ordered him released on a US$5,000 bond, ruling he was not a flight risk or a danger to the community.

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