FRESNO, Calif. — At least 30 immigrant men who are living in the United States illegally and have sex crime records remain in custody in California despite having completed their sentences and wanting to be deported, a newspaper reported Thursday.
The men committed crimes and served their prison sentences. But instead of being released, a state-mandated mental evaluation of sex offenders put them in Coalinga State Hospital, which houses sexually violent predators, The Fresno Bee reported.
Their predicament seems to be nobody's jurisdiction.
The Department of State Hospitals says it does not track patients' immigration status and only a judge can decide if patients are ready to be released. Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the decision is up to the state.
Rudy Kraft, a San Luis Obispo attorney who has been representing sex offenders for nearly 20 years, said California is holding on to the men because it worries they would commit sex offenses in their home countries.
Kraft represents Leo Gutierrez, who was transferred to the Coalinga hospital when it opened in 2005.
"The state government takes the position that if he's deported, we cannot ensure that he's not committing sex offenses in his home country," Kraft said. "In a sensible system, we would work out a supervision program with the home country and let them decide how to keep an eye on him. But there's no consideration of that."
Gutierrez was convicted in 1998 and released early from prison for good behavior, serving three of six sentenced years. He was sent to Atascadero State Hospital before moving into Coalinga State Hospital, a maximum-security facility.
Gutierrez, whose kidneys are failing, said he would like to return to El Salvador, where relatives have offered their organs for transplant.
"I asked (ICE) why they don't pick me up. They said the hospital says I'm still paying for a crime. But that's not true. I finished my time in 2001," said Gutierrez, 49. "I don't know why I did what I did then, but I can't correct it. And all this time, I've been in this place."
The state's convicted sex offenders are referred to the Department of State Hospitals within six months of their parole to undergo a mental health evaluation to determine if they are sexually violent predators.
The 1,300 men at Coalinga have been diagnosed as having a mental disorder and being likely to reoffend, according to the state, which spends $250 million a year to operate the hospital.
While California law limits the state's cooperation with ICE, it doesn't apply when dealing with people convicted of serious or violent felonies, including sexual abuse and crimes endangering children.
An ICE spokesman said the state of California determines the custody of sexually violent predators.
"If ICE has an interest in an individual after being released from custody, our agency would review the case and make appropriate decisions regarding next steps," spokesman Richard Rocha said in an email.
Kraft is grim about the options for people like his client under current policies.
"There is no way out other than death," he said.