Friday, March 19, 2010

Justice Denied, Times Two

Here's a real nightmare scenario for you:

A mother of four who spent 23 years in prison for setting a deadly fire and was paroled with the help of law students who believed she got an unfair trial was deported Thursday, just hours after she was released.

Rosie Sanchez, 49, was convicted of setting a 1985 fire to a competitor’s business in downtown Los Angeles that killed a man. Prosecutors argued she did it because she needed money, but she maintained her innocence.

Ten years ago, students and staff at the Post-Conviction Justice Project at USC Law School met with her. They came to believe she’d gotten an unfair trial because she had inadequate representation and they spent years working to free her. ...

Thursday, as Sanchez’s family prepared for her arrival, they learned she wouldn’t be coming home to Anaheim. She was picked up from prison by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and was taken to the San Ysidro border crossing before she could see her family.

Sanchez believed she had legal status when she was arrested, her daughter said. But ICE agents determined she did not, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice.

“The bottom line is someone who is in the country illegally and has a felony conviction has very few legal avenues available,” Kice said.

Now, the key (apparently) to this outrage is that Ms. Sanchez's conviction was not overturned, even though the judge who presided over the trial felt she was railroaded by the prosecution and had incompetent representation. She was freed because the Parole Board acted favorably on a petition backed by the trial judge, and the governor (a Republican) did not veto the Board's recommendation. She is still a felon.

And that was enough for ICE. It decided (after twenty-three years) that she was not in the country legally and met her at the prison door before her family got there. There was no hearing, no chance for a challenge to her status: they simply drove her to Mexico and dropped her off. That's how the law is written.

The action taken by ICE may be legal, but it is not justice.

For Rosie Sanchez, the decision is bittersweet, her daughter said. “She’s happy because she’s going to be free,” said Rosie Sanchez, the daughter who shares her mother’s name. “But she’s going to be alone.”

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