Judge rules mentally disabled immigrants facing deportation have right to representation

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[JURIST] A federal judge ruled last week that US Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) [official website] officials must provide representation to two mentally disabled immigrants [JURIST news archive] who are challenging deportation proceedings. The ruling was a landmark decision in immigration proceedings as, unlike criminal courts, immigration courts are not required to provide defense attorneys to indigent defendants. Judge Dolly Gee of the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] held that the men are entitled to representation, but stated that the representative does not have to be an attorney [Mercury News report]. The decision stemmed from a lawsuit [materials] filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California [advocacy website] arguing that the two men, Jose Franco-Gonzales and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, were deprived of their right to due process when they were declared unfit to face immigration proceedings and detained by immigration officials rather than released to their families until the situation was resolved. Although the action was originally filed on behalf of the two men, the court granted a petition to transform it into a class-action suit [LA Times report]. Franco-Gonzalez suffers from severe cognitive disabilities and Gomez-Sanchez was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Judge Gee released the two men on bail in April, but they are still facing possible deportation.

In October, the ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] announced that US government has deported a record number of illegal immigrants [JURIST report] in 2010. The agencies reported that more than 390,000 illegal immigrants were deported and that half of those deported allegedly had criminal records. In July, a study released by Syracuse University [JURIST report] indicated that backlogs at US immigration courts had increased by more than 30 percent in the previous 18 months. This rise has been attributed to the Obama Administration increasing enforcement of immigration laws [JURIST report]. Federal authorities have indicated that the workload would continue to grow if Arizona’s recent immigration law [SB 1070 text; JURIST news archive] is implemented. The Arizona law criminalizes illegal immigration and requires police officers to question an individual’s immigration status if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” to believe an individual is in the country illegally. The constitutionality of the law has been widely disputed, and the legislation is now facing several lawsuits, including a suit filed by the US Department of Justice [JURIST report]. In October, a judge for the US District Court in the District of Arizona [official website] denied [JURIST report] motions to dismiss a class action lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality.

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