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Judge backs counsel for detained immigrants with mental illnesses

Three years ago, the federal government was sued for the way certain immigration detention cases were handled. According to the suit, a number of detainees were being held without hearings after being considered unable to represent themselves in a hearing due to mental illnesses. Although this particular case wasn't handled in Illinois court, the federal ruling could have an impact throughout the country.

Immigration hearings are outside the purview of the U.S. criminal justice system, so individuals who are being detained and awaiting a deportation hearing aren't necessarily guaranteed legal representation. According to the federal judge's ruling, however, those who have been deemed unable to represent themselves when dealing with immigration issues should have a valuable means of protection.

One of the other concerns handled in this case was the length of time many individuals with mental illnesses were kept in immigration detention. According to the decision, anyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness will face a bond hearing within six months of being detained. The ruling went further to indicate that there was no clear reason why these immigrants were being held for so long without a hearing.

This case is certainly a positive step for immigrants facing major legal obstacles. It also shows how complex federal immigration laws are. When someone is facing potential deportation without an attorney, it's likely that they will feel disadvantaged.

The reality is that that the representative for the government in a deportation hearing will likely be versed with immigration law, but the individual facing deportation may not have the same knowledge. This holds true for all individuals who are being detained, not just those who are living with a mental condition.

Source: ABC News, "Authorities to Provide Lawyers for Mentally Ill in Immigration Detention," Jill Repoglie, April 24, 2013

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Godoy Olivieri, Ltd.-An immigration law firm

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