For Immediate Release
ACLU/SC, ACLU And Others File First Class-Action Lawsuit On Behalf Of Immigrants With Mental Disabilities
LOS ANGELES - The nation's first class action lawsuit on
behalf of immigrant detainees with severe mental disabilities was filed
in a federal court in Los Angeles late Monday by a coalition of legal
organizations led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern
California (ACLU/SC), Public Counsel and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.
The lawsuit argues that the U.S. government must create a system for
determining which non-citizens lack the mental competence to represent
themselves in immigration proceedings and to appoint legal
representation to those with severe disabilities.
Others participating in the lawsuit
include the ACLU, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties,
Northwest Immigration Rights Project and Mental Health Advocacy
"Our Constitution and our laws demand
fair treatment for people with severe mental disabilities," said Ahilan
Arulanantham, Director of Immigrants' Rights and National Security for
the ACLU/SC. "If someone cannot understand the proceedings against them,
due process requires that they be given a lawyer to help them."
Unlike the criminal court system -
where counsel is appointed as part of due process - immigration courts
and detention facilities have no safeguards for ensuring that the rights
of people with serious mental disabilities are protected.
The six immigrants represented in the
lawsuit are from California and Washington and have all been diagnosed
with severe mental disabilities such as schizophrenia, depression and
mental retardation. Several have been found incompetent to stand trial
in other court proceedings.
One of them, Jose Antonio Franco, was
lost in detention facilities in California for nearly five years
because of the government's failure to account for his mental
retardation. Another, Ever Francisco Martinez-Rivas, a 31-year-old
lawful permanent resident who came to the U.S. at the age of nine, has
been diagnosed with schizophrenia so severe that he gets confused when
given simple directions. Martinez-Rivas has been deemed by a physician
"a gravely disabled person," yet the government intends to deport him
without providing him with a lawyer or having his mental state
"This broken system unjustly ruins
the lives of detainees and their families. Our country's values demand
that we provide fair treatment for detained immigrants with serious
mental disabilities," said Talia Inlender, a staff attorney with Public
The exact number of detainees with
severe mental disabilities is unclear, but some reports estimate that at
least two to five percent of the immigrants detained by immigration
authorities nationwide - or 7,000 to 19,000 individuals - might have a
serious mental disability.
"The problem worsens day by day as
the detention centers swell with more detainees," said Michael
Steinberg, a partner of Sullivan & Cromwell. "Ignoring the needs of
those suffering from mental illnesses only debases our system of
The case, Franco-Gonzales et al. v. Holder et al., was filed in
U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Attorneys on
the case include Arulanantham and Jennifer Stark of the ACLU/SC, Judy
London and Inlender of Public Counsel, Steinberg of Sullivan &
Cromwell LLP, Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project,
David Blair-Loy and Sean Riordan of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial
Counties, James Preis of Mental Health Advocacy Services, and Matt
Adams and Riddhi Mukopadhyay of Northwest Immigrants' Rights Project.
The complaint can be found at: www.aclu.org/immigrants-
The widespread failure of the
Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to
implement a system to indentify immigrant detainees who have severe
mental disabilities and provide court-appointed attorneys to them was
recently documented in a report jointly published by the ACLU and Human
Rights Watch. The report can be found at: www.aclu.org/human-rights/
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