CAIR Coalition Urges Attorney General to Safeguard the Rights of Mentally Ill Immigrant Detainees

by Kathryn M. Doan, Esq.

Recently, the United States signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and celebrated the 19th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These two actions mark our nation’s commitment to provide reasonable accommodations to and ensure basic fairness for all people with disabilities. Unfortunately, this commitment falters in our nation’s immigration courts, where people with mental disabilities are not afforded such accommodations and fairness. CAIR Coalition is one of 77 signatories to a letter calling on the Attorney General to honor this commitment to reasonable accommodations and basic fairness for people with mental disabilities in our nation’s immigration courts.  The letter, which was signed by a diverse group of community organizations and individuals committed to protecting the rights of people with mental disabilities, prioritizes four recommendations that would represent significant progress toward this goal and would save the United States Government significant resources by increasing efficiency in the immigration court. 

These include:

  1. Appointing counsel to indigent people with mental disabilities who do not have legal representation.
  2. Appointing guardians ad litem to people who are found mentally incompetent.
  3. Enacting regulations that standardize procedures for adjudicating competency in immigration court and that give immigration judges the authority to provide reasonable accommodations to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities, including the power to administratively close cases or terminate proceedings where appropriate.
  4. Providing training to immigration judges on recognizing mental disabilities and on taking appropriate actions to protect the due process rights of people with mental disabilities.

These recommendations are well-established in civil and criminal courts throughout this country and have ensured basic fairness and cost savings in those settings. A recent New York Times article highlights the plight of  Xiu Ping Jiang, a young woman from China, who despite having no criminal record and a history of attempted suicide, was locked away for a year and a half in an immigration jail in Florida leading to a drastic deterioration in her mental health.  Twice ordered deported by two different judges while showing clear signs of mental illness, her deportation case was re-opened by the second judge only after the New York Times initially wrote about the case in May of this year.   In addition to violating Ms. Jiang’s basic due process rights, her incarceration by the Department of Homeland Security cost the United States government hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, Ms. Jiang’s case is typical of the way individuals suffering from mental illness are afforded virtually no protections in the current immigration system.  Denied appropriate mental health treatment and access to legal counsel, many can languish for months in immigration detention further exacerbating their mental health problems. According to Liz McGrail, CAIR Coalition’s Legal Director, “We are seeing a big uptick in the number of detainees with mental illness who are stuck there because the immigration courts don’t seem to know that to do with them.” Now, CAIR Coalition and the other signatories of the letter to the attorney general have provided the government with a detailed set of recommendations to insure that immigrants suffering from mental illness are treated in a manner that comports with fundamental fairness and basic human decency.  CAIR Coalition calls upon the attorney general to give serious consideration to these recommendations and to begin implementing the policies and procedures necessary to insure that the rights of individuals with mental disabilities are safeguarded in our nation’s immigration court system, just as they are in our criminal and civil court systems. Click here to read a copy of the letter to the Attorney General.


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