Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advisory on Representing Clients with Mental Competency Issues

The American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center (LAC), in collaboration with the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic, is pleased to announce the release of a new practice advisory: Representing Clients with Mental Competency Issues under Matter of M-A-M-.

Until recently, attorneys and immigration judges had limited guidance about safeguards that might be available to ensure a fair hearing in immigration court for noncitizens with mental competency issues. As a result, many such individuals have been ordered deported without access to counsel or any assessment of their abilities. Others have languished in jail indefinitely while immigration judges delayed proceedings in the hope that they would find representation or that their conditions would improve. Extended stays in detention centers, however, have instead caused people’s conditions to deteriorate, at times resulting in psychosis and catatonia. The lack of protections has even led to mistaken deportations of U.S. citizens.

In May 2011, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) issued a precedent decision in Matter of M-A-M, which set forth a framework for immigration judges to follow when hearing cases involving noncitizens with mental competency issues. The LAC’s practice advisory provides a detailed analysis of that decision — the first published decision from the BIA in nearly fifty years to provide substantive guidance on hearings involving respondents with mental disorders — and offers strategic advice on how to address issues that may arise in the context of representing such individuals.

In connection with the LAC’s Practice Advisory, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) has released a detailed fact sheet entitled The Protection & Advocacy (P&A) System: An Overview for Immigration Attorneys. The Protection and Advocacy System is a network of independent agencies in every state that provide, by federal mandate, legal representation and other advocacy services to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The NDRN fact sheet discusses the types of assistance that P&As may be able to offer immigration attorneys representing clients with mental competency issues. For more information about the LAC’s work on behalf of noncitizens with mental competency issues, please see Our Litigation and Advocacy.  For a commplete list of all LAC Practice Advisories, please click here.

For more information contact Wendy Sefsaf at or 202-507-7524.


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