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Mentally ill detainees to receive court-appointed counsel

The nuances of the immigration court system may not provide the same protections for suspected illegal immigrants as the criminal justice system. However, that may begin to change after a recent federal court ruling.

A federal judge ruled that detainees who are subject to deportation must have legal representation if they are incapable of representing themselves due to mental illness. Unlike criminal courts, immigration courts do not commonly require mentally disabled defendants to have counsel.

According to an ABC News.com report, the ruling stems from a class action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) of San Diego on behalf of six mentally disabled immigrants who were going through deportation proceedings.

The notion was that these defendants could not possibly understand the rules and procedures that would enable them to represent themselves. Moreover, they would also be unwittingly subject to extended detentions simply because they did not know (or understand) their options.

It is also another step in a host of policy changes where suspected illegal immigrants are being treated much differently (and in some cases, humanely) than in years' past. In prior posts we discussed how improperly detained immigrants could bring suit against the government, and how law enforcement agencies will no longer seek to detain non-violent offenders charged with misdemeanor crimes.

The ruling comes on the heels of an announcement by the U.S. Justice Department that they will begin reviewing deportation (and detention) proceedings where mentally ill detainees are involved to evaluate whether they would be able to represent themselves.

Source: ABC News.com, Judge orders authorities to provide lawyers for mentally ill in immigration detention, April 24, 2013

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