Immigration • Despite health issue, a criminal conviction leaves judge no options under framework of the law.
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An immigration judge on Monday ordered the deportation of a permanent legal resident suffering from paranoid schizophrenia because he was previously convicted of several crimes, including a violent assault on a prisoner in Utah County Jail.
Sergio Gonzalez-Garcia sat in shackles and a blue jail jumpsuit while his mother and sister listened to immigration Judge William Nixon light into his attorney, Robert Culas, for trying to argue in a filed brief that he shouldn't be deported because of his mental illness.
"Your brief is not impressive, Mr. Culas," Nixon said flatly.
For almost an hour, Culas tried to argue that the assault charge against the 34-year-old was a simple assault, but Nixon told Culas his client shouldn't have pleaded guilty to the Class A misdemeanor assault charge.
"Why in the world if he has mental problems and is legally insane as you claim and he's hearing voices how can you [have him] plead guilty to anything?" Nixon asked.
Culas said he didn't represent Gonzalez-Garcia during his criminal trial in Utah's 4th District Court last March and was only handling his immigration case. Culas had sought a continuance Monday, but was denied the motion. He said he plans to appeal and has 30 days to do so.
Gonzalez-Garcia was brought to the country when just a toddler and became a legal permanent resident in 1991 when he was a teen. His sister, Wendy Castellanos, said they have no family in Mexico and that a deportation from the United States would essentially be a death sentence for him.
"He's going to go and get lost and get pushed to the limit," she said. "He is not a suicidal personality, but he might just give up."
Nixon told Gonzales-Garcia that he would get help in Mexico because the government offers assistance for the mentally ill and that he should take advantage of that.
However, his mother, Rosa Gonzalez, said that's not true.
She said her family has had a history of mental illness and that she knows people don't get treatment but are instead institutionalized in jails to keep them away from society.
According to a 2010 report by Mental Health Disabilities International, investigators found evidence that seemed to support his mother's fear.
"Investigators found: People with disabilities left permanently in restraints, some of whom were tied into beds and wheelchairs; the use of lobotomies [psychosurgery] without consent; people detained for a lifetime in locked facilities simply because they have a disability; and filthy and inhumane living conditions," according to the report entitled "Abandoned & Disappeared: Mexico's Segregation and Abuse of Children and Adults with Disabilities."
Gonzalez said her son began exhibiting symptoms of mental illness when he was 13, but when he is on his medication and getting treatment, he is a good person. She attributed his list of crimes ranging from the prisoner assault to a slew of misdemeanors to his mental illness.
However, under the terms of being a legal permanent resident, deportation is ordered when the person is convicted of crimes and the assault of a prisoner is viewed by immigration court as the same as a felony conviction.
Nixon said his "hands are tied" on the case and he could only work under the narrow framework of the law regarding the removal of a legal permanent resident.
Gonzalez-Garcia, who met quietly with his family and Culas after the hearing, seemed confused by what was happening.
"Remember to keep your cool," Culas said, explaining he would still remain in custody while the appeal went forward. "It's important you keep your cool."
As he was led away by a federal immigration agent, his mother blew him a kiss with a furrowed brow.
"I love you son," she said in Spanish.
He turned for a moment, then lowered his head and disappeared down the hall.