Mentally deficient immigrant detainees get counsel

Thursday - 4/25/2013, 11:50am EDT

SHAYA TAYEFE MOHAJER
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Federal officials are implementing a new policy that guarantees legal counsel to detained immigrants who can't represent themselves because of severe mental disorders or conditions that render them mentally incompetent.

The national policy announced by Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security officials this week comes after a yearslong legal fight led by the American Civil Liberties Union through a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles.

"Providing legal representation to people with significant mental disabilities is not only legally sound, but also the only humane way to run our immigration system," said Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

About 34,000 immigrants are detained daily and more than 1,000 of them have mental disabilities of some kind, according to the ACLU.

In 2010, the ACLU won a right to representation for two mentally disabled men who spent years in custody. Both were legal residents facing deportation after criminal convictions.

The lawsuit was filed by Jos
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