by Laura Camilo
Everyone knows that our countrys immigration system is in shambles. Documented immigrants often spend years in a legal limbo, while those without papers live a life on the margins. The fear of deportation is stronger than ever in todays anti-immigrant climate. Several states, notably Arizona, have dealt with illegal immigration on their own terms, as year after year the federal government has looked the other way. As immigrants have been rounded up and placed in holding centers while they await legal proceedings, the conditions at these centers have been called into question.
Now, a closer look inside detention centers reveals yet another failure on the federal governments part; the report "Deportation by Default," issued Sunday by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, documents cases of non-citizens who could not understand questions, were delusional, couldn't tell the date or time, and didn't understand the concept of deportation, according to an article in The Charlotte Observer. The article goes on to say:
Thousands of mentally disabled immigrants are entangled in deportation proceedings each year with little or no legal help, leaving them distraught, defenseless and detained as their fates are decided.
Shortcomings outlined by the two groups include no right to appointed counsel, inflexible detention policies, insufficient guidance for judges on handling people with mental disabilities, and inadequately coordinated services to aid detainees while in custody.
Though the vast majority of cases involve non-citizens, Human Rights Watch said some U.S. citizens with mental disabilities have ended up in ICE custody and even have been deported because they were unable to present their claims effectively.
In the most recent such case cited in the report, Mark Lyttle - a North Carolina native diagnosed with bipolar disorder and developmental disabilities - was deported to Mexico in 2008, even though he spoke no Spanish.
In the 2009 fiscal year, nearly 392,000 cases were processed in U.S. immigration courts - and Mehta said a conservative estimate is that 15 percent involved people with mental disabilities.
"The federal government knows about this problem," said Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrant rights at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "But we haven't seen actual implemented steps to make any change to improve the system for dealing with it."
Cases of citizens and residents with mental disabilities who were not properly medicated or informed are detailed in the report. These findings should cause outrage in any American; if most people can barely understand what the immigration policy is from one state to another, how are those with mental handicaps supposed to know what's going on? The lack of action on the federal level leaves much to be desired, and plenty to be ashamed of.