On Aug. 2, Marlon Campos-Osuna, 29, stood in front of a judge in Pinal County Superior Court, waiting to find out if he was competent to stand trial given the state of his mental health.
It had been one year since Campos-Osuna was transferred to Pima County from an immigration detention center in Eloy, where, according to arrest documents, he allegedly assaulted an employee at La Palma Correctional Center.
It was the latest court date in a span of a decade of arrests and detainments.
Campos-Osuna was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder when he was 19. It’s the same age he was when first detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, his mother Claudia Osuna, said to The Arizona Republic.
Ten years later, he is facing a competency hearing that will determine whether he answers to that assault in criminal court, or if he heads back to the immigration detention center and enter another round of evaluations under the immigration court.
After looking over Campos-Osuna’s competency evaluation reports, on Aug. 2 the judge ruled Campos-Osuna incompetent but restorable, meaning that a person’s mental health could be managed to the point that they can assist in their defense and understand the proceeding of their case.
This restoration treatment is singularly focused on getting Campos-Osuna ready to stand trial and not intended to be a part of long-term treatment. Treatment his mother has singlehandedly been trying to provide him throughout his life as he is bounced between criminal and immigration court.
In criminal court, an incompetency determination can stop a criminal trial from moving forward, redirecting a person to court-ordered treatment. In immigration court, an injunction in place would provide Campos-Osuna some safeguard since he is unfit to stand trial due to mental health-related reasons. There is no guarantee, however, that he will be safe from deportation. Campos-Osuna has had to grapple with these kinds of proceedings in the past and will again, no matter the outcome of his criminal court case.
His return to immigration court will once again leave him susceptible to the gaps found in the immigration system when it comes to mental health. Gaps that advocates say end in substandard care, unfair legal burdens and, for many, deportation.
A decade of arrests, detention due to mental health issues
Campos-Osuna first came to Phoenix from Sonora, México, when he was 13.
His mother, Claudia Osuna, remembers him having big dreams of being someone famous. He played the bass drum in his school’s marching band and looked up to his uncle who lived in Los Angeles and played in a rock band, she said.
When Campos-Osuna turned 16, he left home and moved to Los Angeles with his uncle to try his hand as an actor. During that time, Claudia Osuna said he would visit her in Phoenix, excited to share stories from pursuing a career he was passionate about.
That excitement, however, was short-lived. “He started having symptoms in California, where he was working,” Claudia Osuna said, referring to the mental health issues that Campos-Osuna experienced as a teenager.
“He started having hallucinations, started to see things and hear things, and because of it he was arrested in California,” she said.
In 2011, when Campos-Osuna turned 19, he was picked up by police, according to his mother, and held at the Santa Ana City Jail, in Orange County, California, where undocumented immigrants are detained for deportation processing. It was there that he was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, his mother said.
At the time, Claudia Osuna was able to hire a private lawyer and get him released. He then returned to Phoenix to live with her.
From 2011 to 2018, Campos-Osuna was arrested multiple times — twice in Arizona and twice in Los Angeles where he would constantly run off to. Claudia Osuna said she believed he was confused, thinking he was still 16 and living with his uncle.
“He has been in and out of detention because of his disorders,” Claudia Osuna said.
Campos-Osuna was prescribed medication and treatment while in detention, “and ever since has had a dependency,” his mother said. Once he was released she paid for medication and therapy sessions on her own but was only able to afford his treatments intermittently.
At the August 2021 trial, Campos-Osuna turned and looked at his mother. It was the first time in two years they had seen each other. In the span of those years, he had been under the custody of three different agencies: the Phoenix Police Department, ICE and the Pima County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2019, Phoenix police arrested him on suspicion of drug possession.
Campos-Osuna pled guilty and was released on probation only to be immediately placed in ICE custody and detained at the La Palma Correctional Center, to begin immigration proceedings because of his undocumented status.
A year later, in August 2020, he was charged with a felony after assaulting an ICE employee. According to an Eloy police report, an employee of CoreCivic, which runs the La Palma center, said she confronted Campos-Osuna about sleeping “completely nude,” and he then followed her and hit her in the jaw. After, Campos-Osuna was restrained and held temporarily in a secluded cell.
He was taken to Pinal County Jail to await prosecution for the criminal charge.
According to Claudia Osuna, the assault happened on a day when Campos-Osuna refused to wear clothes due to high temperatures inside the detention facility.
At the Aug. 2 hearing, the judge explained that two psychiatric experts evaluated Campos-Osuna and both found him incompetent. However, one of them suggested he was restorable to competency, meaning his mental state could be managed to the point where he could assist in his own defense and understand what would happen in court, according to Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 11.5.
He was placed into a restoration treatment, which involves visits with a psychiatric expert and medication, depending on the patient’s condition.
Court-appointed restoration treatment can go on for up to 21 months from the date the person was found incompetent, per Arizona criminal code. If a person fails to reach competency within that window, the court will stop the trial. Typically this means the court will drop the charges and it may decide to place the defendant into civil commitment or appoint a guardianship.
In Campos-Osuna’s case, if he fails restoration, he faces the potential of returning to an ICE detention center and facing immigration proceedings with an incompetency ruling.
In immigration court hearings, this ruling provides certain safeguards that include minimal testifying, allowing loved ones to stand in for a person who cannot be present because of incompetency and, through a special injunction, receive court-appointed counsel.
The drawback is that counsel is only court appointed to people in detention. If a person goes through immigration proceedings with incompetency outside of detention, they do it alone or pay for their own attorney.
Even though Campos-Osuna had mental health issues throughout his stays at immigration detention centers, he never received court-appointed counsel. His mother always paid on her own for an attorney.
“I never knew that was an option,” Claudia Osuna said.
Many are not aware of the injunction. “It’s not something that’s particularly well publicized,” said Lauren Kostes, a managing attorney with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project.
“A big concern for not publicizing it, I think, is malingering to get an attorney,” she added. “People do fall through the cracks.”
As it is, standing before an immigration judge is a process that is difficult even when a person is free of any mental health issues, she said. Entering ICE detention with mental health disorders is a harrowing ordeal, and trying to venture through immigration proceedings without counsel makes it worse, Kostes said.
But even with counsel, some people don’t have the competency to help in their own case or make their own decisions, leaving counsel to make decisions on behalf of the defendant.
In criminal court, this is viewed as a violation of due process. In immigration court, this is part of normal proceedings.
Advocates: Mental health resources in ICE facilities are lacking
Competency issues are often brought to the immigration judge’s attention by third-party groups, like attorneys, social service workers or the Department of Homeland Security.
In Arizona, the Department of Homeland Security must file any evidence of incompetency in its records to a judge. This evidence usually includes medical records and any evaluations conducted by medical staff at the facility.
“Obviously for the department to be aware, medical has to contact them,” Kostes said, which is why people with competency issues can get overlooked, especially when there are staff shortages like they had at La Palma, she said.
George DeLong, a clinical psychologist and legal competency expert, explained that often detention becomes the first line of treatment in cases where people don’t have access to care in general.
It was true for Campos-Osuna, who was first diagnosed and treated in an ICE detention center. While detention centers, like those of county jails or immigration facilities, are not the ideal place for someone with mental health issues to obtain treatment, any effective treatment personnel may provide relies heavily on staffing and the resources made available, according to DeLong.
A 2020 report by the Office of the Inspector General found that the La Palma facility reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in any detention facility in the country. One reason for this was that the medical unit was “critically understaffed”, with 21 vacancies of its 72 medical positions.
In order to operate as a private detention center, ICE lays out requirements under a set of standards that require the number of medical staff who are “licensed, certified, credentialed” to meet the size of the facility but the online guide of standards does not give specific numbers.
In particular, the mental health department remained slim, with four of the five mental health positions empty and none of the psychologist positions filled, according to the report.
It was under these conditions that Campos-Osuna was charged with assaulting a CoreCivic employee at La Palma. The facility has been functioning as an immigration detention facility since 2018 after losing its contract as an out-of-state prison for California.
ICE’s chief financial officer, Stephen Roncone, had previously said to The Arizona Republic that those numbers were sufficient for the population at the time of the report.
Another rule requires staff to respond to sick call requests within 24 hours of the request. The inspector general’s investigation found some people waited as long as 22 days for a response.
“Our clients have also said that even if they say they are in a crisis or really, really need to speak to medical or mental health (professional), they are told to make a sick call request and just wait days,” Kostes said.
At a minimum, people with mental health disorders in detention need constant observation, DeLong said.
Yet another hearing for mother and son
Like criminal court, in immigration proceedings, people spend most of their time incarcerated and waiting for their hearings to go through, Kostes explained. Campos-Osuna has gone from one detention cell to the next for the past two years.
Semillas Arizona, a Tempe organization advocating for undocumented people, has organized protests calling for Campos-Osuna’s release, arguing he has been criminalized for his mental health issues.
Semillas leaders have worked with Claudia Osuna since 2018 when they first heard of the family’s troubles with law enforcement.
“It’s horrifying to think that we can have this court hearing that significantly more resembles a criminal court setting where there is a prosecutor and there are these severe consequences,” Kostes said, “and someone could be before them and not have the safeguards we have in the criminal system.”
Those safeguards found in the criminal justice system are put in place to ensure due process for people who need it most, especially in cases of incompetency.
“If someone is really unable to help their attorney, it’s hard to know what due process is because we don’t even know what they want.”
“That’s not a majority of cases, to be clear. A majority of our clients are able to work with us and articulate their wants and their wishes. But as always, there are certainly more exceptional cases,” Kostes said.
For Campos-Osuna, that remains to be seen. At a status hearing on Oct. 4, the judge granted a petition from the psychiatrist in charge of his restoration treatment for an additional 60 days of treatment. He has another status hearing Dec. 4.
For his mother, this is just another hearing among the countless he and, by default, she have been put through.
“This has happened before,” she said. “They grab him for the same things, because he has these episodes, and people call the police and police don’t help him. They arrest him and hurt him.”
Campos-Osuna’s public defender, Kia Henderson, declined to comment on the circumstances of his charge or on his mental state during any of his incarcerations.
Claudia Osuna claimed Henderson has not spoken to her about her son’s case.
“I haven’t been told what will happen next,” she explained, “but I will be there for my son.”