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Thousands of mentally disabled immigrants are entangled in deportation proceedings each year with little or no legal help, leaving them distraught, defenseless and detained as their fates are decided.
Their plight is detailed in a report issued Sunday by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, who exhort federal authorities to do better.
Shortcomings outlined by the two groups include no right to appointed counsel, inflexible detention policies, insufficient guidance for
Alberto B. was one-and-a-half years old when his family moved to the United States from Portugal in 1967. He became a legal permanent resident, or “green card” holder, and grew up in Massachusetts with his parents and siblings, some of whom became US citizens. Alberto has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental impairment that causes severe
shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, Alberto wrote: “I’ve been on psych meds since 2004, my guess. I finally turned myself in for help, FORGET MY PRIDE, I [knew] I had a problem. SINCE A very, very, young age…”1 In 2008, Alberto spent 50 days in an in-patient psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts and
was homeless after his release. Alberto claims that he lost his medication later that year, and was arrested for theft and trespassing a few days later.
Alberto’s criminal defense lawyer did not raise his client’s mental competence in court. Alberto agreed to a plea bargain, was released, and hopeful that a new attorney hired by his
family would be able to vacate the criminal charges against him. But in February 2009, immigration officers arrested Alberto for deportation because of his outstanding criminal convictions, and sent him to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Harlingen,south Texas.
Alberto had been held for approximately 11 months when a Human Rights Watch researcher met him. In a letter to us, he wrote:
[F]riends tell me just make a plea bargain with D.A. and get out of it. I didn’t know IT would add up to all of these [things]…being taking to Immigration Holding and brought all the way from mass to texas when I need my family’s moral support. Me needing my family moral support.2
In 2000, Sharon McKnight, a US citizen with cognitive disabilities, was arrested by immigration authorities returning to New York after visiting her family in Jamaica and deported through expedited removal procedures when immigration authorities suspected her passport was fraudulent.9
• In May 2007, Pedro Guzman, a 29-year-old US citizen with developmental disabilities, was apprehended by ICE at a county jail in California where he was serving a sentence for trespassing. He was deported to Mexico, where he was lost for almost three months before he was located and returned to his family in California.10
• In December 2008, US citizen Mark Lyttle, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and developmental disabilities, was deported to Mexico (and from there to Honduras and then Guatemala). It took four months for Lyttle to return to the US; ICE officials maintain that Lyttle signed a statement indicating he was a Mexican national.11
Human Rights Watch interviewed three individuals with then-unverified claims to US citizenship. Two men, Michael A. and Steve S., both claimed to be US citizens, and the government’s proof of alienage against each of them was uncertain and inconsistent.12 A third interviewee may have a valid claim for US citizenship according to his attorneys.13
In the 2009 fiscal year, nearly 392,000 cases were processed in U.S. immigration courts — and Mehta said a conservative estimate is that 15 percent involved people with mental disabilities..
Name:In Loving Memory of Sarah MehtaCategory:Common Interest - FamiliesDescription:Sarah Mehta passed away on May 13, 2008.
This is just a group for her and ourselves, just to get everything out into the open, share your thoughts, feelings, and memories.
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"No one knows what to do with detainees with mental disabilities, so every part of the immigration system has abdicated responsibility," said Sarah Mehta
The report, "Deportation by Default," documents cases of non-citizens who could not understand questions, were delusional, couldn't tell the date or time, and didn't understand the concept of deportation — for example, saying they wanted to be deported to New York.