Jose Antonio Franco-Gonzalez, according to court documents, does not know how old he is, cannot tell time, and cannot remember telephone numbers. Franco was detained for deportation in 2005 and shuffled along various deportation centers in California. All the while, he did not have a hearing to determine if he was a safety risk or mentally competent to stand before an immigration judge. Facing an immigration judge, Franco was required to represent himself.
Unlike criminal courts, those who face deportation or other charges in immigration courts do not have the right to an attorney provided by the government. Children and people with mental disabilities, like Franco, are forced to represent themselves. While those in immigration courts can hire private lawyers to represent them, many cannot afford to do so.
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU-SC), American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego, American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, Mental Health Advocacy Services, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed suit to provide attorneys for those who are not competent to represent themselves in immigration hearings.
In April of 2013, a federal judge ruled that immigration courts have to provide legal representation to those who are mentally incompetent. Federal immigration officials later announced that would expand the ruling nationwide. According to the ruling, immigration courts could provide representation to immigrants by lawyers, students participating in law school clinics, or the immigration courts equivalent of a paralegal. Immigration judges can order mental competency hearings for immigrants who might have serious disorders, according to medical records. The judge can order the lawyers at government expense.
Allowing those who might be deported have a fair hearing is consistent with American values and ideals. By providing lawyers, we are upholding the values that are held in the Constitution. It's time to stop abusing immigrants and the ruling in this case, represents a step in the right direction. The ruling in this case is an effective step in the comprehensive immigration reform that we need.