Skip to main content

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center and 76 human rights advocates, doctors, and community organizations have publicly released a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder calling for basic fairness for people with mental disabilities who face deportation. The letter points out that the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process protections for all people, including those with disabilities.

“We are particularly concerned about mentally ill individuals who are held in immigrant detention,” said Claudia Valenzuela, a managing attorney at Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. “We often meet with detained individuals with mental disabilities who are not receiving the treatment that they need. Isolated from family and legal counsel, these individuals are particularly incapable of navigating the complex immigration system without assistance.”

The letter to Attorney General Holder recommends:

  • Providing appointed counsel to indigent people in immigration court who have mental disabilities and who do not have legal representation
  • Appointing guardians ad litem to people in immigration court who are found mentally incompetent
  • Enacting regulations that standardize procedures for adjudicating competency in immigration court and that give immigration judges the authority to provide reasonable accommodations to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities, including the power to administratively close cases or terminate proceedings where appropriate
  • Training immigration judges to recognize mental disabilities and make reasonable accommodations to ensure a fundamentally fair hearing

These recommendations would ensure that the basic human rights of immigrants with disabilities are respected.


Read The New York Times coverage of mental health treatment in immigration detention

Read NIJC's Statement Submitted to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee Hearing on Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons and Jails


Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit