Wednesday, March 31, 2010


By William Fisher

More abuses in the US immigration detention system came to light last week when it was revealed that two mentally disabled men continue to be held in detention while facing possible deportation for criminal convictions despite having already served their time and two other immigrants have been held for more than two years while pursuing legal challenges to deportation.

The two mentally disabled immigrants, both Mexicans, are facing deportation for criminal assault convictions for which they have already served their time. According to separate lawsuits filed in federal court, they continue to be held in detention facilities in violation of their constitutional rights.

Their lawyers said Jose Franco-Gonzalez, 29, of Costa Mesa and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, 48, of San Bernardino, “have languished in detention facilities for years because authorities deemed them mentally incompetent.” “Their deportation cases were closed in 2005 and 2006 and the men have since been forgotten, shuttled through a network of jails, psychiatric hospitals and detention centers.”

"This represents a massive failure on the part of our immigration system to create procedures to deal with individuals with disabilities," said attorney Talia Inlender of Public Counsel, one of a coalition of legal advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which filed the habeas corpus petitions last week.

ICE attorneys have argued that the law requires the men to continue to be detained because of their crimes.

The men's attorneys said their clients have served their time and should be released. Gomez is a legal resident, and Franco's family -- his parents are legal residents -- has a pending petition that would allow him to apply for a green card.

The men still could face deportation. But their families said the men would be unable to care for themselves in Mexico because of their mental conditions.

Franco, who has moderate mental retardation, was convicted and served a year in jail on an assault with a deadly weapon charge for throwing a rock during a fight between rival gangs, his attorneys said. He reportedly doesn't know his birth date or how to tell time, and has an IQ of about 55.

Gomez, who has paranoid schizophrenia, served one year of a two-year sentence for a 2004 assault conviction stemming from a scuffle over tomatoes he picked without permission. He has previous convictions, including for battery against a police officer, which his attorneys have attributed to his mental illness.

In another immigration development, Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, released two immigrants who had been subjected to prolonged immigration detention while pursuing legal challenges to deportation after a court ruled that their continued detention without bond hearings was unlawful. Rather than proceed with bond hearings for the detainees.

Released were Elliot Grenade, a lawful permanent resident from Trinidad and Tobago, and Alexander Alli, a lawful permanent resident from Ghana, without requiring them to post any bail – Alli under minimal reporting requirements and Grenade under electronic monitoring. The two men are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Pepper Hamilton LLP.

The two men had been detained for over two and a half years and a year and a half, respectively.

The men’s lawyer, Farrin Anello of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told IPS, “Once the court ruled that our clients were entitled to bond hearings at which the immigration agency would bear the burden of justifying their continued detention, the agency agreed to release them on conditions of supervision. It is a relief that the agency finally acknowledged that their detention was unnecessary, but by denying them any bond hearing prior to the court’s ruling, the agency subjected our clients to years of separation from their families, all at taxpayers’ expense.”

She added, “"Under the mandatory detention law, the government has regularly argued that individuals with minor criminal convictions can be detained for long periods of time while fighting the government’s attempts to deport them, without ever having a bond hearing at which a court considers whether their detention is necessary. But in this case, the court ruled that because of due process concerns, the law does not allow for lengthy detention without such a hearing.”

The ACLU filed a class action lawsuit on May 27, 2009, charging that the government is violating the law by incarcerating people for prolonged periods of time, sometimes for years, while they fight their immigration cases, without providing them with the most basic element of due process — a custody hearing to determine if their prolonged detention is justified.

Attorney Anello told IPS that the ACLU plans to appeal the court's August 2009 decision denying permission to bring this case as a class action “in light of the thousands of immigrants who are detained without hearings.”

In yet another development, the Washington Post has reported that immigration authorities have set quotas for agents that incentivize them to deport non-criminal undocumented non-citizens.

A spokesman for the advocacy group Reform Immigration FOR America (RIFA) said, “This directly contradicts stated White House and administration goals of focusing enforcement efforts primarily on those who have dangerous or violent criminal backgrounds.”

On February 22, James Chaparro, Head of ICE Detention and Removal Operations issued a memo to field agents indicating that the agency had decided to implement a quota system for field agents to boost the number of deportations "with a 'surge' in efforts to catch illegal immigrants" whose only violation was related to immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported."

RIFA said this was at odds with statements from the President and Secretary [of Homeland Security, Janet] Napolitano whose purported enforcement and security goals are to focus deportation efforts on dangerous or violent criminals. To explain the contradiction, an agency spokesman indicated that Chaparro's memo was "inconsistent" with the administration's point of view and inconsistent with Secretary Napolitano. Adding to the confusion, Chapparro later issued a 'clarifying' memo that did not rescind or abandon the quota system he referenced.