US: Confused, Alone, and in Legal Limbo

People with mental disabilities, including US citizens, face a greater risk of erroneous deportation by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because courts do not ensure fair hearings for those not able to represent themselves, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a joint report released today. The groups urged Congress to pass legislation requiring the appointment of lawyers for all people with mental disabilities in immigration courts.

The 98-page report, "Deportation by Default: Mental Disability, Unfair Hearings, and Indefinite Detention in the US Immigration System," says that immigrants with mental disabilities are often unjustifiably detained for years on end, sometimes with no legal limits. The report documents case after case in which people with mental disabilities were prevented from making claims against deportation – including claims of US citizenship – because they were unable to represent themselves. Some of the people interviewed for the report did not know their own names, were delusional, could not tell time, or did not know that deportation meant removal from the United States.

"Few areas of US law are as complicated as deportation, and yet every day people with mental disabilities must go to court without lawyers or any safeguards that make the hearings fair," said Sarah Mehta, Aryeh Neier fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU. "Some have disabilities so severe that they don’t know their own names or what a judge is."

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