Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Mentally Ill Immigrants Have the Right to Representation

California immigration lawyers are hailing it as a significant decision. A federal judge has ruled that immigration officials must provide legal representation to mentally challenged persons who are facing deportation.

The ruling involves two cases that have since become part of a class-action lawsuit, alleging that federal immigration officials failed to provide legal counsel to immigrants facing deportation, thereby depriving them of their constitutional rights to due process. The class-action lawsuit also alleges that by denying access to representation, the federal government has engaged in discriminatory practices against people with a disability.

The first lawsuit in this case was filed in March on behalf of a man from Costa Mesa, as well as another mentally challenged person. The man has severe mental challenges, and has the mental capacity of a child. The other man also suffers from serious mental disability. Both men were rounded up by immigration authorities, and spent time in detention without having the chance to speak with a lawyer, and without a chance to challenge their detention.

The American Civil Liberties Union of California filed suit on behalf of the two men. The suit was filed in March, and the two men were released pending a bail hearing. Soon, the suit expanded to include other mentally disabled immigrants who were also facing deportation charges. In November, the ACLU asked a federal judge to appoint lawyers for all the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who suffered from mental challenges. US District Court Judge Dolly Gee agreed that federal officials must provide legal representation to immigrants with severe disabilities who are facing deportation charges.

The federal government must now decide whether it will pay for legal representation, or find pro bono representation for these two plaintiffs. The ruling doesn't require representation by an immigration attorney, but the ruling does establish basic criteria for those representing the interests of mentally disabled detainees.

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