Immigrants with Mental Disabilities May Reopen Deportation Cases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 25th, 2015

Matt Adams, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project:
(206) 957-8611, matt@nwirp.org

Sandra Hernandez, American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California:
(213) 977-5247, shernandez@aclusocal.org


 

Los Angeles, CA – Hundreds of immigrants with mental disabilities who were ordered deported after being forced to represent themselves in court may be able to return to the U.S. under terms of a settlement approved on September 25th in a landmark class action lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee granted final approval of the settlement in Franco v. Holder, clearing the way for the immigrants with serious mental disabilities to request to reopen their cases and, if approved, return to this country.

“This is a critical piece of the litigation, recognizing that many of our class members were previously ordered removed without a fair opportunity to present their case in court,” said Matt Adams, legal director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

“This lawsuit addressed a fundamental flaw in our system, where detained immigrants with serious mental impairments were previously left to fend for themselves. We look forward to the government’s announcement that they will now implement this nationwide, providing legal representatives for detained immigrants across the country who do not have the capacity to represent themselves,” Adams concluded.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for due process,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. “For too long, individuals with mental disabilities were forced to represent themselves in deportation proceedings or allowed to languish in immigration jails.

“Ultimately, all were denied a fair day in court. This settlement ensures that individuals who were ordered deported in violation of the law will finally have an opportunity to obtain the benefits of the court’s landmark ruling.”

The settlement follows an April 2013 injunction ordering that immigrants with serious mental disabilities have a right to legal representation if they are determined not competent to represent themselves. A subsequent implementation order issued in October 2014 required the federal government to establish comprehensive screening and competency determinations.

Those rulings left unresolved the cases of the hundreds of class members who had been ordered deported before these rulings went into effect.

The settlement applies to immigrants with mental disabilities who were detained in Arizona, California, and Washington after November 21, 2011, and were deported without legal representation and without a proper competency determination.

The federal government has agreed to assist the return of all individuals whose cases are reopened and to pay transportation costs for some of those immigrants to return to the U.S.

The suit was filed in 2010 by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Public Counsel, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Mental Health Advocacy Services, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, and the ACLU of Arizona.

It was originally filed on behalf of Jose Antonio Franco-Gonzalez and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, two immigrants with mental disabilities who had been locked up for years in immigration jails after being determined to be mentally incompetent to represent themselves in their immigration proceedings.

After more than five years of litigation, and the major reforms ordered by the court, an independent monitor was appointed to ensure that the federal government complies with the plan.

Read the settlement at this link

Read a Franco v. Holder timeline at this link

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Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) is a nationally-recognized legal services organization founded in 1984. Each year, NWIRP provides direct legal assistance in immigration matters to over 10,000 low-income people from over 150 countries, speaking over 60 different languages and dialects. NWIRP also strives to achieve systemic change to policies and practices affecting immigrants through impact litigation, public policy work, and community education. NWIRP serves the community from four offices in Washington State in Seattle, Granger, Tacoma, and Wenatchee.