An issue that is arising with U.S. immigration law is how to deal with illegal immigrants who have mental disorders. Specifically, judges are having a difficult time handling these cases because the defendant sometimes does not have the means to defend himself, and other times the legal guidelines just aren’t there to allow a fair trial.
The American Civil Liberties Union is confronting this issue, filing a federal class action suit recently in an effort to change U.S. immigration law. The ACLU wants the government to provide three things for mentally-ill defendants who are illegal immigrants: a competency hearing, a lawyer and a bond hearing.
Currently, the Department of Justice does not allow illegal immigrant detainees to have an attorney if the defendant’s only means of securing legal representation is through government support. A spokesperson for the ACLU said that those with mental disabilities “will never get a fair hearing without an attorney being present,” and it would seem that current U.S. immigration law propagates this effect.
The lack of a lawyer greatly affects a 32-year-old San Diego man who is in the U.S. illegally. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 18, and after being detained for battery in 2008, he was unable to pay for legal representation – so his mother had to defend him. In his case, immigration officials did diagnose him with schizophrenia, but they did not tell the judge of his medical condition.
When he took the stand, he was unable to answer questions and the judge had to delay his case. The judge also barred any deportation proceedings and was critical of the U.S. immigration laws, or lack thereof, for handling these types of cases. “The Attorney General has provided little guidance regarding steps to take to protect the rights and privileges of the alien,” she said. “Immigration case law has also failed to adequately address what such steps are to be taken for an incompetent, pro se, alien in removal proceedings.”
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Detained immigrants with mental illnesses face barriers in court,” Paloma Esquivel, Feb. 7, 2012