Illegal Immigrants with Mental Illnesses Cannot Fend for Themselves in Legal Battles

Ever Martinez Rivas has been in and out of treatment centers for his schizophrenia and depression since he was 18. Now, aged 32, Rivas is receiving no legal assistance in his deportation hearings. Rivas has already had his deportation proceedings postponed six times since June of 2010, with all judges who oversee Rivas’s case having difficulty assessing it fairly.

According to the Los Angeles Times, at Rivas’s most recent hearing, Rivas responded to questions with long pauses. When the judge asked him if he understood what she was saying, Rivas responded with a pause, then a simple answer: “No.”

The Los Angeles-based pro bono law firm Public Counsel, however, has been working to make cases like Rivas’s more fair. Public Counsel and other advocacy groups are working to require government offiicals to provide competency hearings, lawyers and bond hearings for those individuals living with mental illnesses and facing deportation proceedings.

“The overwhelming majority [of those with severe mental disabilities] will never get a fair hearing without an attorney being present to represent them,” said attorney Ahilan Arulanantham in an interview with the LA Times.

According to The Daily Nebraskan, many residents without proper immigration forms have a higher likelihood of suffering from mental illnesses. Dangerous journeys and massive culture shock give many hoping to achieve U.S. citizenship a higher rate of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. One Guatemalan man awoke to find himself full of tubes in Arizona after he passed out from dehydration when trying to cross the border.

Not all immigrants have been shunned from all legal representation, however. In July 2011 two men with severe mental disabilities were awarded legal guidance by federal officials in a United States district court. After spending years in deportation facilities, Jose Antonio Franco and Guillermo Gomez Sanchez were released within days of the federal officials’ decision.