Department of Justice Steps to Protect Mentally Impaired Immigrants in Deportation Proceedings

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The Department of Justice is taking steps to protect the cognitively impaired in removal proceedings. This includes identifying detainees with mental impairments that render them unable to understand these proceedings and provide them lawyers. However, once identified as mentally impaired, the detainee is denied the option to refuse being represented by a lawyer. This aspect may become controversial. However, once implemented this new policy has the potential to save cognitively impaired detainees with valid claims to remain in the country from deportation.

Currently immigration court—unlike in criminal court—defendants have no constitutional right to a free lawyer. This has proven disastrous for cognitively impaired immigrants—documented as well as undocumented—who have been detained and face deportation. Unable to comprehend court and deportation proceedings or take appropriate steps to prove their citizenship, these people end up being deported to meet unsavory fates in countries they either don’t remember or have never been to with no support.

Although the new policy to provide mentally impaired detainees with representation is a good step in the right direction, it still does not protect these people from being deported for petty crimes that trigger mandatory deportation. Mental illness and petty criminality are generally agreed to be linked often, so even if a cognitively impaired immigrant wins their case once because representation has been provided doesn’t protect them from being deported as a consequence of their cognitive impairment.

Source: Murray-Tjan, Laura. “Immigration Puzzle of the Week: Do We Deport People for Being Mentally Ill?” Huffington Post. January 10, 2014.

This article was written by Rebecca Little