Immigrant detainees face enormous challenges in representing themselves at hearings that decide their fate. But imagine if a detainee also struggles with a mental disability?
Public interest law center Texas Appleseed and corporate law firm Akin Gump are releasing an 88-page report that documents the mistreatment of immigrants with mental disabilities in Texas, where 29 percent of immigrant detainees are held.
One example in the report describes a 50-year old legal permanent resident with schizophrenia who was arrested for trespassing on private property. The court declared him incompetent to stand trial and sentenced him to 90 days in a mental institution. Instead he was transferred to a detention center in southern Texas where he went weeks without medication. He received no legal counsel and was swiftly deported to the Dominican Republic before his family found out.
This is only one of many tragic stories, and the experiences of mentally disabled immigrants who stayed in the country are not much better. In one case study, a refugee with “severe mental limitations” was left at a gas station without money. In a separate incident, a schizophrenic woman who spoke only Russian was left in a dangerous area at 1 a.m with only the clothes on her back.
The Washington Post recently posted a government memorandum in which Chief of Detention and Removal Operations James M. Chaparro commends the work of ICE and adds “we anticipate achieving the Agency goal of 150,000 criminal alien removals in FY10.” Chaparro goes on to discuss plans to exceed their goal, as if he were discussing product sales instead of human lives.
When the justice system is pushed to fulfill a specific quota, it cannot be truly just. With the fate of individuals and their families in the hands of courts, they have the legal and ethical responsiblity of determining each sentence based on the severity of the crime and the circumstances of the case.
Recently Human Rights Watch and the ACLU filed lawsuits on behalf of two mentally disabled immigrants who have been held in custody for four years. The two immigrants involved are Jose Antonio Franco, who is mentally retarded and cannot tell time or his age, and Guillermo Gomez Sanchez, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Both are legal residents. Representatives argue that it is a violation of their right to freedom from indefinite detention and their right to a fair hearing. Sarah Mehta, Aryeh Neier fellow with Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, asserts, “An immigrant so disabled that he cannot tell time is unlikely to recognize that he’s spent four years of his life in detention…ICE needs to enforce immigration law – that is its job – but it needs to ensure basic fairness for people who are clearly disadvantaged, and sometimes even lost, in the system.”
The vast majority of immigrants with disabilities are not fortunate enough to have high-profile human and civil rights organizations represent them, making the need for reform even more urgent. Sign the petition to call for reform of the broken immigration system. And sign the petition to keep immigrant families together.
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