December 28, 2010 in Nation/World

Judge’s deportation ruling a first

U.S. must provide lawyers for mentally ill immigrants
Catherine Saillant Los Angeles Times
 

LOS ANGELES – Two mentally disabled immigrants must be given lawyers as they fight deportation, a U.S. district court judge has ruled.

Jose Franco-Gonzalez, 29, of Costa Mesa, Calif., and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, 48, of San Bernardino, Calif., are at the center of a case that marks one of the first instances in which a judge ordered representation for an individual in immigration proceedings, according to a coalition of advocacy lawyers arguing the men’s cases.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee came last week just before Christmas.

In a March lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other advocates argued that the men’s diminished mental capacities made them unable to voice their own interests.

Franco, who is moderately retarded, 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 have said. He doesn’t know his birth date or how to tell time, according to his attorney.

Gomez is a paranoid schizophrenic who 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, which his attorneys have attributed to his mental illness.

The lawsuit initially was filed only on behalf of Gomez and Franco. But the plaintiffs’ lawyers successfully petitioned the court to transform it into a class-action case on behalf of all detainees with mental disabilities, attorneys said.

“Judge Gee’s thorough opinion is a first step in ensuring that the rights of those who are rendered helpless by their mental illnesses are not ignored,” said Michael Steinberg, a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell who is assisting in the litigation.

Both men are still facing possible deportation. Gomez is a legal resident and Franco has petitioned for a green card.

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