Report Calls for Greater Protections for Detained Immigrants with Mental Disabilities

by Kathryn M. Doan, Esq.

Texas Appleseed, a public-interest law firm dedicated to promoting greater justice for all Texans through research, advocacy and partnerships with volunteer attorneys and other professionals, has recently released a report chronicling the sub-standard care and lack of due process rights afforded to immigrants in the detention and removal process in Texas.  Although the report focuses on the treatment of immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in Texas and in the federal immigration courts in Texas, the problems the report uncovers are mirrored in ICE detention facilities and immigration courts around the country.

Texas Appleseed partnered with the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to research and write “Justice for Immigration’s Hidden Population: Protecting the Rights of Persons with Mental Disabilities in the Immigration Court and Detention System.”   The 88-page report is based on interviews with more than 40 attorneys and mental health processionals who work with immigrants with mental disabilities.  (Mental disabilities include both mental illness as well as developmental disabilities.)  In addition, the team working on the report also interviewed immigration court judges and observed immigration hearings.  Attorneys from Texas Appleseed and Akin Gump also visited two detention centers in Texas and spoke with immigrant suffering from mental disabilities.

CAIR Coalition’s Legal Director, Liz McGrail, served on the national Advisory Committee that provided Appleseed that provided input and guidance at various stages during the research and writing of the report.

Despite recent reform efforts, the U.S. immigration system remains plagued with deficiencies that include the overuse of detention and a lack of basic medical care for immigrants suffering from mental and physical disabilities.  Nowhere are the deficiencies of the current system more evident than in the plight of immigrants who suffer from mental disabilities.

The Texas Appleseed report reveals numerous examples of poor or non-existent health care for immigrants with severe mental health problems held in ICE detention, arbitrary transfers of mentally-ill detainees far from family and mental health resources, and lack of due process of immigrants with mental disabilities in an immigration court system that affords them no right to counsel. The report also chronicles the lack of a functional record keeping system which often places critical health care information out of reach of both detained immigrants as well as their attorneys.  Finally, the report details how ICE’s lack of care and concern for immigrants with mental disabilities often extends to their release from detention or removal from the United States.  Many immigrants with mental disabilities are released from detention or deported without notification to family members, an adequate supply of medication or any provisions for their safe return home.

The report’s many case studies remind us that there are real human beings suffering on a daily basis as a result of ICE’s failure to provide even minimally adequate care to an extremely vulnerable group of people.  People like the physically disabled woman with mental illness who was left naked on the floor in solitary confinement for several days, bleeding from her menstrual period.  Or like the woman who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and severe depression prior to her detention, who received no mental health care during her 18 month detention, and instead was ridiculed by guards who accused her of faking her illness.

Texas Appleseed makes clear that ICE and the immigration court system can, and must, do better.  To that end, the report includes six core recommendations in the report for improving the system.  They include:

1.         Recognizing immigrants as a vulnerable population deserving special protections.

2.         Placing immigrants with mental disabilities in the least restrictive setting.

3.         Providing appropriate diagnosis and care in detention.

4.         Establishing a competent medical records system.

5.         Improving the chances of a fair outcome in court.

6.         Ensuring the safe release or removal of immigrants with mental disabilities.

Click here for a full copy of the report.


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