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ACLU Suit Seeks Lawyers and Competency Hearing for Mentally Ill Immigrants

Posted Feb 7, 2012 8:44 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Unrepresented by an attorney during an immigration court hearing, Ever Martinez Rivas, 32, turned out to have another formidable advocate in the San Diego, Calif., courtroom: His mom.

After Maria Elena Felipe finally interrupted the hearing and gave the judge his medical records, which showed he had been in and out of hospitals and treatment centers for nearly 15 years, the judge found he was incompetent and terminated his removal case, reports the Los Angeles Times.

But the judge, Renee L. Renner, pointed in a written opinion to systemic problems dealing with such individuals that remain unaddressed:

"The Attorney General has provided little guidance regarding steps to take to protect the rights and privileges of the alien," Renner wrote. "Immigration case law has also failed to adequately address what such steps are to be taken for an incompetent, pro se, alien in removal proceedings."

A federal class action brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Ever Martinez Rivas and seven other men seeks to change this situation by obtaining a ruling requiring counsel and competency hearings for those fighting deportation proceedings, among other due-process safeguards, according to the newspaper article.

Sullivan & Cromwell, the Public Counsel law firm and other advocacy groups also are involved in the suit, explains an ACLU press release from August 2010, when an amended complaint (PDF) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Times that the government provides relevant information to the court in its filings.

She declined to comment on the case of Ever Martinez Rivas and his fates remains uncertain, the newspaper notes. Following Renner's termination of his deportation case and the filing of the federal suit, a federal judge ordered a bond hearing for him and he was released to live in a facility in Los Angeles for the mentally ill.

Renner's decision is being reviewed by the Board of Immigration Appeals and the federal court has ordered the the government to find counsel to represent Martinez on appeal.

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com (2008): "Hundreds of Deported Foreigners Drugged for Flight Home"

ABAJournal.com (2009): "Noncitizens Have No Right to Counsel in Deportation Cases, Mukasey Finds"

Orange County Register: "Judge: Immigrants have right to representation"

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