Costa Mesa man example in ACLU case

COSTA MESA — Using a Costa Mesa man's detention as an example, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the federal government this week on grounds that it doesn't give the mentally disabled a fair chance to dispute deportation orders.

Six suspected illegal immigrants, who are mentally handicapped, filed a federal suit Monday against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security with the support of the ACLU of Southern California, the Public Law Counsel in Los Angeles and the Sullivan & Cromwell LLP law firm.

"It's a sad thing that the government hasn't done anything to protect these individuals," said Mike Steinberg of Sullivan & Cromwell. "I don't know if it's foot-dragging or whatever it is, but I hope everyone recognizes that this is a serious problem."

Critics of the government's deportation proceedings point to stories like those of Jose Antonio Franco-Gonzalez. He is a 29-year-old man from Costa Mesa with the mental ability of a child. He can't tell time or dial a phone number, and he doesn't know his own age or name.

Despite that, the government began deportation proceedings against him five years ago after he was convicted for cutting a man's face with a rock during a local gang fight.

A judge found that Franco-Gonzalez could not be deported because he didn't understand the charges against him, ACLU officials said.

The group sued ICE in March to have Franco-Gonzalez freed after five years in detention. He was released days later.

Now, the ACLU and others are seeking for the government to put steps in place to ensure that scenarios like Franco-Gonzalez' aren't repeated. The lawsuit asks the government to give suspects mental competency evaluations and attorneys to represent them at detention hearings.

ICE begun making adjustments to deportation proceedings and detentions in March, immigration officials said in April.

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