Lawsuit Regarding Mentally Disabled Immigrant Detainees Moves Forward

A federal judge in California recently granted class status to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the Public Council Law Center in 2010, which contends that the government’s failure to provide legal counsel to detained mentally disabled illegal immigrants violates a number of U.S. immigration laws, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Under the judge’s ruling, the plaintiff class now comprises all Department of Homeland Security detainees facing removal proceedings in California, Arizona and Washington, who suffer from a “serious mental disorder or defect” that would prevent them from reasonably representing themselves in court.

Among the class representatives is Juan Carlos Sepulveda-Perez, who, according to court documents, suffers from chronic paranoid schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and psychotic disorder and has been detained since May in the psychiatric unit of a San Diego correctional facility. Another representative, Jose Antonio Franco Gonzales, suffers from moderate mental retardation and has been in custody for more than four years.

“The sad fact is that the government refuses to systematically track the many detainees with mental disabilities who are lost in immigration detention centers, unable to represent themselves or even to understand why they’re there,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Southern California. “Today’s ruling will allow us to shed light on this most vulnerable population within our broken immigration detention system.”

In announcing the judge’s decision to certify the class, the PCLC stated that more than 1,000 immigrant detainees in the United States have mental disabilities. The Associated Press cited court filings in which the federal government put the number of mentally disabled detainees at 55 as of February 2010 .

The AP also reported that the judge in this case, Dolly Gee, ruled in a previous case that the government had to provide legal counsel to three mentally disabled detainees.