MIAMI
03/17/2013 04:51 pm ET Updated May 20, 2013

Fernando Garnica, Fearing Deportation, Did Not Seek Medical Treatment After Fatal Beating

Fernando Garnica's beating during an apparent robbery proved to be fatal, but some say it was his silence that killed him.

With his eyes swollen shut and blood dripping from an ear, Garnica told friends that his chest ached with each breath.

Garnica remained in this wretched condition for five days as he laid quietly on a corner mattress inside of a filthy one-bedroom Pompano Beach apartment that he shared with four other guys.

"We kept telling him he needed to go to the hospital, but he didn't want to go," former roommate Jorge Padilla said at the apartment last week. "A man died because he didn't have papers."

Advocates and law enforcement officials say Garnica's death is an extreme illustration highlighting a dilemma many undocumented immigrants face after they are victimized: to call authorities for help or suffer in silence.

Garnica, 37, was by all accounts a roofer who arrived in the U.S. without documentation about a year ago from Mexico. He worked six days a week and sent money to family back home in Pachuca-Hidalgo.

After the Jan. 20 robbery and beating, almost everyone at Garnica's small one-story apartment building said they knew he was afraid to seek medical attention, frightened to reach out to authorities for help because he was in the country illegally.

Some residents at Garnica's apartment building on Hammondville Road in Pompano Beach said they are undocumented immigrants also, and would likely be silent crime victims themselves.

"Every day you hear about someone getting their things stolen, or getting hurt," said Eva Renteria, the manager of the apartment complex and the nearby Starlight Nightclub. "When something really bad happens, they just try to move on and not cause any trouble."

Determining the number of undocumented victims is hard to quantify. The National Crime Victimization Survey does not account for undocumented immigrants, and many of the crimes against them go unreported.

The crimes range from being cheated out of money by their bosses to rapes, domestic violence, burglaries, car thefts and robberies.

A report published in 2010 in the Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice found that about 60 percent of the 90 undocumented immigrants interviewed for the study reported being crime victims. Only 14 reported the crimes to police, according to the study. Only one of the victims reported the crime personally.

"Unfortunately, the problem is part of life for many who come here," said Andres Ruiz, spokesman for the Mexican Consulate-General in Miami. "In this case, unfortunately, a person died."

Ruiz said law enforcement agencies typically don't alert immigration officials about crime victims. But with no set rules, policies vary among agencies. Things are usually left to an investigator's discretion, he said.

Investigators with the Broward Sheriff's Office, who were alerted to Garnica's death through the Broward Examiner's Office, said the man's fear of calling authorities was groundless.

"We always try to stress that if you are a crime victim, or a witness to a crime, to contact 911. We are not concerned about your immigration status," BSO spokeswoman Dani Moschella said. "Had [Garnica] called 911, he might still be alive. His fear was unfounded."

Investigators have remained tight-lipped regarding the robbery that led to Garnica's death.

Days after Garnica died, the Sheriff's Office arrested 17-year-old Alfredo Mariano, of Pompano Beach, who now is facing a first-degree felony murder charge as an adult.

Garnica's roommates said he had been drinking Tecate beer all night at the Starlight and then accompanied Mariano and others to a second nightclub later that evening.

At the end of the night out, detectives said the teenager offered to give Garnica and his roommate a ride back to the apartment. Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., Mariano beat and robbed the men of their cash and took one of the victims' Jeep Cherokee, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Although friends saw at least two other men with Mariano that evening, detectives have declined to say if any further arrests are expected.

Padilla, the roommate who tried to care for Garnica, said his friend stood up on his own after five days of laying down and not eating. He collapsed before reaching the living room. Padilla called the building's manager, who then called 911.

"He looked like death was looking around for him," Renteria recalled.

Garnica was rushed to Broward Health North, where he died.

Officials said Garnica could have sought a special visa issued to crime victims called a U Visa. The special visa is issued to crime victims who are in the country without documentation. It allows the victims to remain in the country for up to four years as long as they cooperate with authorities in prosecuting a crime.

Such visas were offered to the alleged victims of former sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Bleiweiss. He is accused of intimidating eight undocumented male immigrants from the Oakland Park area into performing sex acts. Investigators have said Bleiweiss used his victims' fear of authorities to his advantage.

Long before Bleiweiss was arrested, Father Bob Caudill, who runs the All Saints Mission, warned his congregation about the deputy, and told them about their rights as victims.

Caudill said the fear of contacting authorities eased somewhat after news of the Bleiweiss case spread in the undocumented immigrant community.

"The good that came out of that evil is that people are now more aware of what they can do," Caudill said.

Bleiweiss has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trail.

Benito Gaspar, who works for the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office as a liaison to the immigrant community in Lake Worth, said he was not surprised by Garnica's fear. Gaspar said there are three factors that lead to a person's reluctance to seeking help.

"There's a language factor, a fear of being deported, and in many cases, the countries where they immigrated from has a corrupt government and police officials," Gaspar said.

Gaspar, who was hired by the agency in 2010 with the help of a federal grant, said he has seen more immigrants in Palm Beach County come forward to report crimes because of the relationship his office has established with the community.

"The main thing is gaining the trust," he said. "It's important to convey that we are not going to report them to [immigration authorities] because they are victims. It's immoral to victimize the victims a second time."

Many in the migrant community in Broward were moved by what happened to Garnica.

Earlier this month, Garnica's friends raised about $1,200 to help ship his remains back to Mexico. Garnica's blood-stained mattress remains in the apartment.

ijrodriguez@tribune.com; 954-356-4605 or @GeoRodriguez on Twitter and Instagram ___

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