Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Two mentally disabled Mexican immigrants released after long detention

March 31, 2010 |  4:28 pm

Two mentally disabled Mexican immigrants who spent years in detention facilities after completing their sentences for assault convictions were released Wednesday by U.S. immigration authorities, officials said.

Jose Franco-Gonzalez, 29, of Costa Mesa and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, 48, of San Bernardino each spent more than four years in detention facilities because authorities had deemed them mentally incompetent, their attorneys said.

Their deportation cases were suspended in 2005 and 2006 and not reopened for years. The men were then shuttled through a network of jails, psychiatric hospitals and detention centers.

“We’re very pleased [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] reached this decision, but it’s a shame it takes a federal lawsuit to do the right thing and come to a common-sense result,” said attorney Talia Inlender of Public Counsel, one of a coalition of legal advocates that filed lawsuits on the men’s behalf last week in federal court.

The lawsuits allege that the men’s prolonged detention violated their constitutional rights. Their release came a day after The Times published a story about their cases. 

An ICE official said that after a review of the men’s custody status and medical conditions and assurances from their families that the men would be safe and secure, the agency determined that the two immigrants should be released.

Both will be placed on electronic monitoring and will be provided with treatment in community health centers. They could still be deported.

“We have waited five years for this moment,” Ruben Franco, Jose Franco’s brother, said in a statement. “This was such a long struggle that nobody should have to go through.”

Franco’s family -- his parents are legal residents -- has a pending petition that would allow him to apply for a green card. He has moderate mental retardation. Gomez is a legal resident diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Franco was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and served a year in jail for throwing a rock during a fight between rival gangs, his attorneys said.

Gomez served one year of a two-year sentence for a 2004 assault conviction stemming from a scuffle over tomatoes he picked without permission.

-- Andrew Becker

This report is published in cooperation with the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, where Becker is a staff reporter.