Lost in Deportation Limbo

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Last week, the Observer published my story on our government’s push to deport as many legal immigrants as possible who have low level misdemeanors. Many legal residents who have lived in this country their entire lives are shocked once they enter the immigration court system because they soon realize they have no rights. No right to a court appointed attorney, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement can change their court venue anytime. They will more than likely be moved through several different jails around the nation before they are deported. And the person can be held for months or years without bond.

This year, the U.S. government is on target to deport as many as 400,000 people.

Now imagine navigating this system with a mental illness? Today, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU issued their 98-page report on people with  mental disabilities, including U.S. citizens, who are being deported  and detained sometimes for years only aggravating their mental illnesses.

Often, people with mental illness are kept in isolated “medical” cells in immigrant detention centers without any mental health treatment or legal representation. The two civil and human rights groups are asking Congress to pass legislation requiring the appointment of lawyers for people who are mentally ill in the immigration court system.

The two advocacy groups document 58 cases of people with mental illness facing deportation. Most of them are legal immigrants. As Americans complain that immigrants need to play by the rules and follow the law, they should also understand that in many cases the rules are broken and there is no legal process for thousands of legal immigrants who did “play by the rules.” And this is why our country needs comprehensive immigration reform so badly. It is surely worth the time to read this report.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.