Mentally disabled immigrant detainees right to legal counsel

Imagine being arrested in a foreign country without the means to hire a lawyer to represent you in court and not being allowed to have one appointed to you by the court. Without knowing how the country’s legal system operates, you would be at a distinct disadvantage in trying to represent yourself. Now imagine a person who is mentally disabled trying to do the same thing.

This is the situation several immigrants in the Los Angeles area have been forced to face when they have found themselves in deportation proceedings. One in particular is a 32-year-old man who has an IQ somewhere in the range of 35-55. He came to the United States when he was 18-years-old and applied for a green card in 2001 through his brother who is a citizen. His request was never approved, and five years ago he faced deportation proceedings. Because he couldn’t afford an attorney, his case could not proceed. He was sent to a federal detention center where he stayed for five years.

A new ruling by a federal judge will change all of this. The ruling states that mentally disabled immigrants who are not able to afford an attorney or who are not competent enough to represent themselves in court will be able to receive free legal assistance. This is a major shift in federal immigration policy and is the first time that any type of immigrant detainee has been allowed to have the right to legal counsel.

Currently, this ruling only applies to three states, including California, but the policy will also be adopted on a national basis soon.

Source: LA Times, “Mentally disabled facing deportation win right to free legal help,” Cindy Chang, April 25, 2013