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ACLU Sues Federal Government Over Mentally Disabled Immigrant Detainees

Audio

Aired 8/10/10

The ACLU in San Diego has filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of immigrant detainees with mental disabilities. KPBS reporter Sarah Gonzalez explains the civil liberties group wants court-appointed attorneys for those who can't represent themselves.

The ACLU in San Diego has filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of immigrant detainees with mental disabilities. The civil liberties group wants court-appointed attorneys for those who can't represent themselves.

Immigration court isn't like criminal court. Non-citizens in immigration detention centers do not have a right to a court-appointed attorney.

That means they have to represent themselves in their deportation proceedings, even the detainees with mental illnesses.

The ACLU and partner organizations are suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawsuit asks for mental competency screenings and the appointment of counsel for those who are declared incompetent. It also wants detention hearings with the option to place detainees in a mental health center.

Sean Riordan is the ACLU attorney on the case. He says the lawsuit still wouldn't prevent the mentally disabled from being deported.

"We hope that the government will generally use its discretion whether to try to remove people wisely, and will not try to remove people whose minor criminal histories are a result of their mental illnesses," said Riordan.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not comment on the pending litigation, but said judges can currently order psychiatric evaluations if mental illness is suspected. ICE says immigration regulations and the law don't require them to appoint counsel for anyone in a civil immigration proceeding.

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