Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Report find mentally ill immigrants whisked to Texas

More information the deportation of people in mental hospitals, many of them legal residents. Apparently the Obama Administration officials have issued a quota for deportations in the article below. --Lauren

By Nina Bernstein
THE NEW YORK TIMES

For lawyers offering free legal information at large immigration detention centers in remote parts of Texas, the task is difficult enough: coaching hundreds of detainees on how to represent themselves at assembly-line deportation hearings. But the lawyers soon discover a more daunting problem: Many detainees are too mentally ill or mentally disabled to understand anything.

The detainees, mostly apprehended in New York and other Northeastern cities — some from mental hospitals — have often been moved to Texas without medication or medical records, far from relatives and mental health workers who know their histories. Their mental incompetence is routinely ignored by immigration judges and deportation officers, who are under pressure to handle growing caseloads and meet government quotas.

These are among the findings of a yearlong examination of the way the nation's immigration detention system handles the mentally disabled in Texas, where 29 percent of all detainees are held while the government tries to deport them. The study, conducted by Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center, and Akin Gump , a corporate law firm, documents mistreatment at every stage of the process.

Among many examples in the 88-page report, released Tuesday, is that of a 50-year-old legal permanent resident with schizophrenia who had lived in New York since 1974. In November, a New York criminal court declared him incompetent to stand trial on a trespassing charge and ordered him to serve 90 days in a mental institution. Instead, he was transferred to the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility in South Texas, to face a deportation proceeding without counsel — so abruptly, the report said, that his family and lawyer did not know what had happened.

At the detention center, he received no medication for weeks, and in March, he was deported to the Dominican Republic.

"My mother is devastated," his sister, Janet Jiminez, said Sunday. "She says he will die out there on the streets.

"I've been a U.S. citizen for many, many years," Jiminez added. "If we have a law system, and the law system has declared that you are incompetent and should be taken to a mental hospital, why are you taken to Texas to be deported?"

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the report said, routinely ignores its discretionary authority to leave such detainees in community settings rather than lock them up, at great expense, in distant jails.

The agency is reviewing the report, a spokesman, Brian Hale, said, adding that "in cases where ICE is required by law to detain certain aliens with serious medical and mental health issues, we work to ensure the person receives sound, appropriate and timely care."

A recent government memorandum shows that agents are under intense pressure to increase detentions and deportations. In the memo, James Chaparro, the Obama administration's chief of detention and removal operations, congratulated agents for reaching the agency's goal of "150,000 criminal alien removals" for the year ending Sept. 30. But Chaparro urged them to overcome a shortfall in the goal of 400,000 deportations by making maximum use of detention slots, including an additional 3,000 this year.

The publication of the memo clearly embarrassed the administration. A spokesman, Sean Smith, said that "our focus continues to be on the criminal side" and that Chaparro was reprimanded Monday by John Morton, the chief of the immigration enforcement agency, at a meeting with immigrant advocates.

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