Thursday, April 28, 2011

Don't Remove Immigrants with Mental Disabilities

Immigration courts are ill-equipped to handle cases involving immigrants with mental disabilities.

From Huffington Post:

Our detention and deportation system failed Anya (her name has been changed for confidentiality purposes). She was born in Russia with heart defects and deformed hands. She was rejected by her parents for many years, spending her infancy in hospitals and institutions. Later she was abused by her parents, then abandoned by them. She immigrated to the United States as a young teen, adopted by U.S. citizens. After more than a decade, she had a child of her own, whom she abused. Anya was diagnosed with mental illness. Although she was convicted of child abuse, the state court recommended medication, counseling, and a chance to regain custody of her child. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") took over, and Anya was deported. Without a chance to comply with the state family court's order, Anya's ties with her child were permanently severed. She should not have lost her child. She should not have been removed.

The law required ICE to detain Anya. Mandatory ICE detention is required when the immigrant has been convicted of a moral turpitude crime where the maximum sentence is more than one year, even if the person was not sentenced to more than one year. Anya's child abuse conviction fell into that category, even though she was actually only sentenced to a few months in jail. Detention radically affected the complexion of the proceedings. Her attorneys could not meet and prepare with her in noncustodial settings, she could not assist in the gathering of and assembling of helpful evidence, and, perhaps most importantly, she could not abide by the family reunification order of the state court.

Outcomes are often a matter of chance or circumstance.  The results of Anya’s case could have been quite different without changes in the law if the personalities were different.  For example, a different immigration judge might have seen things differently.  A different government attorney may have been more sympathetic and taken a more humanistic approach to the facts in the case.  A stronger attorney for Anya may have yielded a different result.  However, when the stakes are so high, do we really want to leave things to such speculative chance?  Matters involving such high stakes should not be left to simple chance or circumstance; because the stakes are so important in removal proceedings, processes must be institutionalized in order to better assure high standards of fairness and consistency. Faced with immigrants suffering from mental disorders, immigration judges should have options available that at least include referrals to mental health professionals outside of detention. At least then, immigrants like Anya would have a meaningful chance. Read more...


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