Courts Bar Cruelty against Illegal Aliens: `Inherent Factor' of Civil Rights Cited

Article excerpt

Fernando Romero learned the limit on his rights as an illegal alien after being critically injured in a 1994 car crash fleeing a Border Patrol agent. When he came out of a coma, during which California's Medicaid program spent $100,000 on care, he was denied rehabilitation payments.

U.S. courts often permit major consequences for "undocumented aliens" - including confinement and procedural delays not condoned for others - but they draw the line at outright cruelty and unjustified police force. There was little dispute with that stance yesterday from police, civil libertarians or Mexican officials here who saw videotapes of two California deputies beating a man and woman with nightsticks after a 70-mile chase.

"I think civil rights are just an inherent factor of the human race, regardless of who you are," Sgt. Mark Lohman of the Riverside County, Calif., Sheriff's Office said, conceding that Monday's televised beating produced unusually quick action, including suspension of the officers four hours after the videotape aired.

"Just on the surface, looking at the videotape, it doesn't look good. And I don't think anybody looking at that videotape thought it looked good," Sgt. Lohman said.

Mexican officials said U.N. human rights agreements must be followed.

"There seems to be a tendency in this case, because they are illegals, that it is kind of fair game to do this," said Federico Salas, minister for political affairs at Mexico's Embassy in Washington, who said the officers should be punished.

"Here we have a case where it was filmed by the camera, but instances like this repeat themselves with unfortunate regularity," Mr. Salas said.

Illegal aliens enjoy few civil rights beyond equal protection from state action, but they can't be denied emergency medical care or a public defender when charged with crimes, nor may children be excluded from schools.

The federal government has begun a civil rights investigation under a 19th century law passed to shield freed slaves from intimidation against voting. In this century the law has been used to punish police abuses.

But Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Deval Patrick went out of his way to say federal authorities are coordinating the FBI probe of the Riverside County deputies jointly with criminal investigators from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office since the beating happened in Los Angeles County.

"The FBI has been in contact with us and told us they're going to watch our internal investigation as well," Sgt. …