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Little help given to mentally ill detained immigrants

It is difficult enough to be an undocumented immigrant facing the possibility of deportation. But the difficulties are compounded even more for detained undocumented immigrants suffering from mental illness.

Besides the normal barriers of culture, language and unfamiliarity with the complex procedures of the court system, mentally ill detainees may also have difficulty understanding their situation or communicating their needs as a result of their disability.

Unfortunately, the immigration system is ill-equipped to cope with such circumstances, and often just shuffles mentally disabled detainees through routine processing while giving them little specialized assistance or understanding.

Hundreds of mentally ill detainees languish in immigration detention with their needs for adequate medical care and mental health treatment largely ignored in a manner certain to worsen their condition, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Because of communication barriers, mentally ill detainees often face repeated delays in their cases and therefore remain imprisoned despite having been convicted of no crime. Additionally, appointed lawyers are only available to them if an attorney volunteers pro bono.

A federal class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU seeks to obtain a court order to provide some modicum of justice for such immigrant detainees. It seeks to provide them with at least the bare minimum of due process protections which would come from access to appointed lawyers, a bond hearing and a hearing to determine competency.

Detainees who are class representatives in the lawsuit suffer from a range of mental disorders, including paranoid schizophrenia and mild retardation. The ACLU argues that without these accommodations, such detainees have no chance for a fair hearing.

Source: L.A. Times, "Detained immigrants with mental illnesses face barriers in court," Paloma Esquivel," Feb. 7, 2012

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