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Legal woes of mentally disabled facing deportation detailed

Thousands of mentally disabled immigrants are entangled in deportation proceedings each year with little or no legal help, leaving them distraught, defenseless and detained as their fates are decided.

Their plight is detailed in a report issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, who exhort federal authorities to do better.

Shortcomings outlined by the two groups include no right to appointed counsel, inflexible detention policies, and inadequately coordinated services to aid detainees while in custody.

"No one knows what to do with detainees with mental disabilities, so every part of the immigration system has abdicated responsibility," said Sarah Mehta, the report's lead author. "The result is people languishing in detention for years while their legal files - and their lives - are transferred around or put on indefinite hold."

The report, "Deportation by Default," documents cases of noncitizens who could not understand questions, were delusional, couldn't tell the date or time, and didn't understand the concept of deportation - for example, saying they wanted to be deported to New York.

The new report urges Congress to require appointment of lawyers for all people with mental disabilities in immigration courts. It recommends mandatory training for immigration judges to recognize mental disabilities, and calls for repeal of a regulation allowing a mentally disabled detainee to be represented in court by the warden of the detention facility.

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