Tag Archives: immigration

Deportation by Default, Part Two: United States Wrongfully Deports Disabled Citizen

In July, a study was released discussing disabled immigrants and revealing some alarming facts about who is in immigration detention in the United States. I wrote about it here, and the numbers were pretty astounding. The study uncovered the fact that 15% of the people in immigration detention in the United States had disabilities that impaired their ability to understand immigration proceedings. They were unable to defend themselves in court and unable to understand their legal rights. Some were kept for years in detention while officials debated what to do with them.

Immigration law is one of the most tangled areas of law in the United States. The system is complex and labyrinthine and it’s extremely difficult to navigate. It’s even harder when you’ve been held in detention for weeks, months, or years and you’ve been provided with inadequate care; being in confinement is stressful, and can exacerbate mental illness for some people, making it even more challenging to make your way through the court system. The ACLU set out some immediate demands in their report to get better protections for disabled detainees; as far as I know, those demands have not been met.

The report also documented cases of US citizens with disabilities who were deported because they were the wrong colour and they were unable to defend themselves in court. Just last week, I read a followup on a case I discussed; the American Civil Liberties Union is suing on behalf of Mark Lyttle, who was deported and left to fend for himself in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala for four months before he was able to get assistance from a US embassy. This case has been dragging on for over a year.

Lyttle is of Puerto Rican descent, but he’s lived in the United States his whole life. He only speaks English. The government knew this when they deported him:

The U.S. government admitted in April that it had wrongly deported an N.C. native, but newly released documents show that federal investigators ignored FBI records and other evidence showing that the man was a United States citizen.

At the time of Mark Lyttle’s deportation, immigration officials had criminal record checks that said he was a U.S. citizen. They had his Social Security number and the names of his parents. They had Lyttle’s own sworn statement that he had been born in Rowan County. (source)

His story started when he was briefly jailed for ‘behavioural problems’ in a home for people with mental illness. Officials referred his case to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite being aware that he was a US citizen. ICE detained him, investigated, denied him legal counsel, and deported him to Mexico.

As he drifted homeless and penniless through Central America, he was unable to access the medications he was taking to treat his mental illness. Unstable environments contributed to a deterioration of his mental state. He considered suicide. He was imprisoned by multiple sets of officials and deported a second time when he managed to re-enter the United States. Finally, after reaching an embassy, his family was contacted and he was brought safely back into the United States.

There are layers of problems with this case. There’s the documented issue that ICE fails to serve people with disabilities in immigration detention, making it impossible for undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants, and wrongfully detained citizens alike to make their way through immigration proceedings; it’s pretty much impossible for anyone to self-represent in immigration court, let alone someone who is disabled, isolated, frightened, and not getting adequate care. It’s clear that a better system needs to be put in place to screen people when they enter detention so they can be provided with adequate services, if we are going to be detaining people at all.

And there’s the problem, not restricted to people with disabilities, of deporting people simply because they appear to be undocumented immigrants. If you have brown skin, if you ‘look Mexican,’ whether or not you are, whether or not you have documentation, there is  a potential risk of deportion. ICE raids in workplaces across the country have swept up legal immigrants along with US citizens, including some people who have never been outside the US. Despite ample documentation, these people have been deported. Because they look wrong.

Cesar Ramirez Lopez, a San Pablo truck driver, won a $10,000 settlement in 2007 after he was held for four days by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents even after his lawyer convinced ICE investigators that he was a citizen.

Rennison Castillo, a Washington state man who was born in Belize but took his oath of citizenship while serving in the U.S. Army in 1998, who spent seven months in an ICE prison in 2006. He is suing the government with the help of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.

Some longtime observers of the immigration agency say that, while citizens make up a tiny fraction of the roughly 400,000 people who pass through ICE custody each year, such cases occur with some regularity. The problem is exacerbated, they say, by the fact that immigration detainees, unlike those in the criminal justice system, lack the right to legal counsel and other due process protections. (source)

One of the cornerstones of the legal system in the United States is supposed to be the premise that people are innocent until proven guilty. Yet, in the case of deportation proceedings, people are…guilty until deported. Denial of basic legal rights to people in immigration detention is a travesty and a human rights violation. People are intimidated into complying with deportation proceedings:

The young man was bullied into signing a form authorizing his voluntary deportation, except that it wasn’t made clear to Delgado that by affixing his John Hancock he was okaying being shipped off to Mexico. His belief was that he would be allowed to return home in Houston if he just did as he was told. (source)

This is a problem that goes far beyond the issues with disabled detainees in particular. The current state of our immigration system is a travesty that needs to be addressed; it is a foreign policy issue, it is a human rights problem, it is a fundamental violation of everything the United States claims to stand for. Providing basic legal rights to all people in immigration detention should be an immediate priority for the United States, because this has got to stop.

Recommended Reading for 18 October 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

The first two links were sent in by Penny at Disability Studies from Temple U! Thanks Penny!

Knitting Clio: Ableism and NARAL Pro-Choice America

via NARAL Pro-Choice America, which is running a pro-choice slogan campaign.  Here are the choices:





I voted for the first one — why?  Because using “insanity” to discredit opponents trivializes persons with mental illness — a group that already experiences social marginalization and oppression.

Media dis&dat: South Carolina woman with Down syndrome volunteers as teacher’s aide in special ed classroom (Extra Special Trigger Warning for description of exploitative labor practices passed off as Very Special Favors done by abled folk)

“She had been working at a fast-food place, but they were really taking advantage of the fact that she was disabled,” Masaki said. “So, I offered her a ‘job’ here.”

Brown’s unpaid job is to be a teacher’s aide in Masaki’s classroom. While the position is voluntary, Brown works like the two full-time paid teacher’s aides, Rita Evans and Wendy Usary. The paid aides help Masaki with the classroom teaching everything from potty training to table manners to play time to desk work.

Brown helps control the children and helps keep the classroom running the three days a week she’s there.

The following post, which made me so angry I really cried because I hate the world sometimes, was sent in by reader Blake:

NYTimes.com: Mentally Ill US Citizen Wrongly Deported (TW, because the title doesn’t even begin to cover how awful this is!)

A mentally disabled U.S. citizen who spoke no Spanish was deported to Mexico with little but a prison jumpsuit after immigration agents manipulated him into signing documents allowing his removal, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges. His lawyers say the agents ignored records showing his Social Security number, while prison officials wouldn’t tell concerned relatives what happened.

Health Behavior News Service: Kids With Chronic Illness, Disability More Apt to Be Bullied

The study showed that students who reported having a disability or chronic illness — no matter where they lived — were more likely to be experience bullying from peers than those who did not. For instance, in France, 41 percent of boys with a disability or chronic illness reported undergoing bullying compared with 32 percent of boys without. Gender, however, was not a factor — boys and girls were victims equally often.

In addition, when students with a disability or chronic illness were restricted from participating in school activities, they had a 30 percent additional risk of being bullied.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: The Problem with Policing Someone Else’s Mental Health

Marginalized people are particularly susceptible to having their emotions pathologized, partly because their experiences aren’t typical. When young queers are experiencing depression related to the stigma of their sexuality, people like Tony Perkins swoop in to point the blame at their sexuality, and not the stigma that they themselves are perpetrating. Women, queers, the disabled, people of color, political dissidents, atheists; all of these groups have a history of being labeled “insane” to control them.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

2010 WWBC: An Australian wheelchair basketball athlete goes for a shot.

Photo by Flickr user Ben_Smith_UK, Creative Commons license.

Rhydian Fôn James at The Guardian: Comment is free: We want to work – but government would rather cut costs than help us

The vast majority of pension credit claimants make genuine claims for money to support them in old age. Only a few very strange people would suggest that pensions should be cut for everyone, just because a handful of pensioners play fast and loose with the system. And yet, that is the argument made for the sick and disabled. Why? It is all about the tabloid-stoked perception of anyone claiming disability-related benefits as potential scroungers who are able to work. This line of thought suggests that most disabled people are capable of some kind of work – however minimal – and that benefits disincentivise work. Such thinking allows the government to take a hacksaw to the welfare state in the guise of benevolence aimed at reducing fraud.

Jim Kenyon at Valley News: ‘Temporary Custody’ (content note, descriptions of police brutality)

After going outside, McKaig spotted a police officer standing on the steps leading into Burwell’s townhome. The officer wasn’t hard to miss — he held a high-powered rifle. “I know the man who lives there,” McKaig recalled telling him. “He’s a black man with a medical problem who was recently taken by ambulance to the hospital.”

Two officers — one female — apparently were already inside Burwell’s home. Upon arrival, Cutting said, officers discovered the man inside was unresponsive, and found smoke in the home emanating from a lamp that had been knocked over.

If the officers had stopped on the second floor to look at the pictures of Burwell and his elementary-school aged daughter displayed under the dining room table’s glass top, they probably would have had pretty good confirmation that their burglary suspect was in fact the townhome’s resident.

Shaun Heasley at Disability Scoop: Chemical Castration Drug Peddled As Autism Treatment (h/t Lauredhel, content note, neurobigotry)

However, many medical experts are questioning the claims, saying that there’s no reason to suggest a link between autism and mercury and that there is no proof that Lupron would help remove excessive amounts of mercury from the body. What’s more they are highlighting the risks that Lupron can bring patients including heart problems, stunted growth and impotence, reports the (Fort Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel.

Anna Gorman at the Los Angeles Times: Mentally ill immigrant detainees should receive legal representation, suit says

Immigrant detainees with severe mental disabilities have a constitutional right to legal representation in immigration court, according to a lawsuit filed late Monday by a coalition of legal organizations.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles on behalf of six immigrants from California and Washington who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression and mental retardation and are being held in immigration detention centers around the country or are fighting their cases in immigration court.

“If someone cannot understand the proceedings against them, due process requires that they be given a lawyer to help them,” Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrants’ rights for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said in a statement.

AllAfrica.com: Disability Movement Contributes to NCC

Mr Ngwale said 18 disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) with representation from most provinces met from Thursday to Saturday last week at Capital Hotel in Lusaka where it was resolved that Article 53 clause one of the Draft Constitution be amended to address concerns of persons with disability.

Mr Ngwale said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday the disability movement discussed and adopted principally, Article 53 of the Draft Constitution.

Article 53 clause one reads that persons with disabilities are entitled to enjoy all the rights and freedoms set out in this Bill of Rights on an equal basis with others.

Potentially relevant to your interests! I am back at Bitch Magazine for the next eight weeks under the title ‘Push(back) at the Intersections.’ A bit more about what I will be talking about:

I’m interested in how people interact with feminist critiques of pop culture, and I’m not just looking at nonfeminist responses, but also feminist ones. Some of the strongest pushback when it comes to feminist explorations of pop culture comes from within the feminist community, rather than from outside it.

Push(back) at the Intersections is about challenging dominant narratives, starting with ‘feminists united against the world.’ There are, as we know, all kinds of schisms within feminist communities, many of which play out over old and tired ground, including in the world of pop culture discussions.

Deportation by Default: 15% of Immigration Detainees in the US Have Disabilities That Impair Their Understanding of Deportation Proceedings

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union released a report yesterday shedding some shocking light on the immigration detention system in the United States. According to ‘Deportation by Default,’ 15% of immigration detainees have mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities that render them unable to present their cases or understand immigration proceedings in court. Many were held for indefinite periods, like Jose Antonio Franco Gonzalez and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, two men who were held in detention for almost five years without adequate care.

Representation is not mandated or guaranteed for people undergoing immigration proceedings:

Some were able to hire lawyers, others received pro bono representation – but there is no automatic right to court-appointed counsel, and most were not represented, the report said. (source)

I know I couldn’t represent myself in immigration proceedings and have a fighting chance at winning, personally, and I have a lot less working against me than many immigration detainees do. The fact that counsel is not appointed for people who may be navigating an unfamiliar legal system in a language they may not understand is, to be blunt, a horrific miscarriage of justice.

The ACLU concludes its summary of the situation with this rather damning commentary:

Due process is part of judicial integrity. It’s a basic principle that this country has decided to prioritize. It’s one of our greatest exports — we send people all over the world to talk about rule of law and how to reform judicial systems but we’re not doing it here in our fastest growing judicial system [the immigration courts].

Not every non-citizen with a mental disability is entitled to remain in the United States; but everyone is entitled to a fair hearing and a chance to defend his or her rights. If the US government is going to detain and deport individuals with mental disabilities, it must do so in a way that respects their human rights, honors US human rights commitments, and ensures fair and accurate court decisions.

The circumstances and situations documented in this study, incorporating interviews with 104 people, are something that the United States should be deeply ashamed of. The justice system in the United States is often touted as a paragon of equal access and fairness; we are told that everyone has access to due process, to representation in court, to the right to understand legal proceedings. Yet, for disabled immigration detainees:

Deficiencies exist throughout the arrest, detention, removal, and deportation process, violating the human rights of affected individuals and offending both American and international standards of justice. The shortcomings include no right to appointed counsel; inflexible detention policies; lack of substantive or operative guidance for attorneys and judges as to how courts should achieve fair hearings for people with mental disabilities; and inadequately coordinated care and social services to aid detainees while in custody and upon release.

The report documents cases of people who did not understand what deportation meant and lacked the ability to comprehend deportation proceedings; one subject asked to be deported to New York, for example. Some interview subjects had intellectual disabilities or untreated mental illnesses that made it functionally impossible to understand what was happening, while others were in extreme emotional distress and had difficulty comprehending the proceedings, let alone communicating. At least two cases included US citizens wrongfully subjected to deportation proceedings. One North Carolina native had bipolar disorder, was unable to understand the case against him, and could not represent himself in court, so he was deported to Mexico. Another, a US citizen since childhood, would have been deported if it weren’t for the actions of an attorney with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Centre.

The 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. (source)

This recommendation would certainly be a step in the right direction if it was followed. It’s clear that we have been subjecting disabled detainees to grave injustice, and it’s going to take a lot of work to remedy that. People with disabilities are also poorly served in the US court system in general, but attorneys at the ACLU point out that deportation proceedings are among the most complex legal matters people can encounter, with the fewest protections in place; if there’s any place where inability to understand court proceedings has high stakes, a deportation hearing is definitely high on the list.

“Owing to their mental disability, people may not be able to share their experience with the judge in a way that helps him understand that they have a mental condition or a valid claim,” says Deborah Fowler, Texas Appleseed’s legal director. “This is particularly true for asylum seekers who have suffered trauma or persecution in their home countries.” (source)

Another serious problem for people trapped in immigration detention is that it can be stressful, exacerbating mental health issues and causing emotional distress for people with intellectual disabilities. Being shuffled from facility to facility has documented ill health effects on nondisabled people, and those effects can be even worse for people with disabilities, especially when they are denied adequate care and treatment. Judges, uncertain about what to do with detainees who clearly do not understand the proceedings, can place cases in a form of legal limbo, leaving people adrift in the immigrant detention system for years.

If this report outrages you as much as it does me, I urge you to contact Congress to tell them that you would like to see this report followed up, and want to see Congress taking the concluding recommendations seriously. If you are in the US, your own Representative is the best bet for a contact and/or you can write your US Senators. If you are outside the United States, please consider contacting a member of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law or the Senate Subcomittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security and explaining that while you are not in the United States, you are gravely concerned by this report and feel that it reflects poorly on the position of the US in international society (and anything else you care to add). You can also drop a line to President Barack Obama, should you feel so inclined.

Recommended Reading for Friday, 30 April 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not necessarily safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Three dancers, dressed in teal and purple, lined up in a row in performance. The front dancer is kneeling, the middle dancer is seated in a wheelchair, and the rear dancer is standing.

From front, Kong Veasna, Kim Sathia and Mao Tipmony performing at the Spotlight festival in Phnom Penh. (Vandy Rattana/Epic Arts Cambodia) (Creative Commons License, Cambodia Trust)

Reminder: Tomorrow is Blogging Against Disablism Day! You can check in at Diary of a Goldfish to see all the submissions (and submit your own work if you are participating). Many, many thanks to The Goldfish for all of the organising work which goes into this.

Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence: Interdependency (via curate)

Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk.   It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility.  It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.

Wheelchair Dancer: Arizona’s Immigration Laws

Two questions: what kinds of offenses make people removable? (Note: even the very word choice — removable — makes it sound like you are taking out the trash.) Turns out that besides the biggies, like you know, murder, the case for removability can be built from smaller things such as traffic offenses. Without a warrant? Perhaps that’s one thing if you see a person on the street robbing a bank, but I can see it being used as an excuse to enter homes, to conduct raids, to begin to hunt people down. I can see it being used as a way of legalizing the immigration equivalent of witch hunts.

Tanya M. Luhrmann at the American Journal of Psychiatry: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (book review, warning, some problematic word use)

Perhaps the explanation is that it is so morally distressing to confront the costs of human social life. This, after all, was the story of the 1965 Moynihan report—a report that documented the real challenges of African American life in the inner city and was roundly criticized as racist and dismissed. Racial prejudice, after all, is something that readers of a book like this can act on or at least believe they can alter. Deep social inequality that leaves its marks on the body and mind is far more difficult to uproot. There is little doubt, however, that those marks are real.

Kavita Ramdas at TED Talks: Radical women, embracing tradition (video and transcript)

Why is it that women are, on the one hand, viciously oppressed by cultural practices, and yet, at the same time, are the preservers of culture in most societies? Is the hijab or the headscarf a symbol of submission or resistance? When so many women and girls are beaten, raped, maimed, on a daily basis, in the name of all kinds of causes, honor, religion, nationality, what allows women to replant trees, to rebuild societies, to lead radical, non-violent movements for social change?

Denise Grady at the New York Times: Second Opinion: In Reporting Symptoms, Don’t Patients Know Best?

“There is a sensibility among some old-school clinicians that they have a better sense of their patients’ experience than patients do themselves,” Dr. Basch said. “But doctors and nurses bring their own biases to the evaluation. They might say, ‘Mrs. Smith always exaggerates her fatigue — she says 9, but I rate it a 6.’ ”

Kaitlyn at Oh Money Trumpets: Medication for Bipolar Disorder and TV Shows

But with my mood swings, the “alien” idea made more sense. A better metaphor is a switch. A switch is flicked, I get so pissed off. Switched again, I don’t want to do anything. Switched again, back to baseline. No control. Which got a bit annoying, because I’d be mad at somebody. They’d get mad at me for being mad at them for no reason. Then I’d get mad at them for being mad at me when I had no control over the original anger!