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Latino Daily News

Monday August 9, 2010

Class-Action Lawsuit Filed On Behalf of Immigrants with Mental Disabilities

The nation’s first class action lawsuit on behalf of immigrant detainees with severe mental disabilities was filed by a coalition of legal organizations.  The suit asks a federal district court to order the U.S. government to create a system for determining which non-citizens lack the mental competence to represent themselves and to appoint legal representation for those who are unable to defend themselves. Unlike the criminal court system – where appointed counsel is part of due process – immigration courts and detention facilities have no safeguards for ensuring that the rights of people with serious mental disabilities are protected.

The six immigrants represented are from California and Washington, and all have been diagnosed with severe mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia and mental retardation.  Several have been found incompetent to stand trial in other court proceedings. One of them, Jose Antonio Franco-Gonzalez, was lost in detention facilities in California for nearly five years because of the government’s failure to account for his mental retardation. Another detainee named in the lawsuit, Ever Francisco Martinez-Rivas, is a 31-year-old lawful permanent resident who came to the U.S. at the age of nine. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia so severe that he gets confused when given simple directions, and has been deemed “a gravely disabled person.” Despite this, the government intends to deport Mr. Martinez without giving him a lawyer and without having his mental state evaluated.

The exact number of detainees with severe mental disabilities is unclear, but some reports estimate that at least two to five percent of the immigrants detained by immigration authorities nationwide – or 7,000 to 19,000 individuals – might have a serious mental disability.

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