On March 26, 2010, the ACLU filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus and class-action complaint, representing several named plaintiffs with serious mental disorders or disabilities who had been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and denied provision of legal course. The plaintiffs filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, against the federal Government. Many of the documents filed in this case are under seal or otherwise unavailable to the Clearinghouse, including the initial habeas petition. However a third amended complaint from October 25, 2011, is available and included in our collection. The third amended complaint lists the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, a constellation of federal immigration laws, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as causes of action under which the suit was brought.
The Third Amended Complaint alleged that the plaintiffs, due to their mental disabilities, were incompetent to defend themselves, but had been forced to do so by the immigration courts. It alleged that many class members would be pushed through these proceedings without any comprehension of their meaning and then deported, regardless of whether they had been in the United States legally. The plaintiffs estimated that the size of the plaintiff class was at least several hundred individuals, and that two to five percent of all immigrant detainees would have a qualifying serious mental illness. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the Government had violated federal law, and injunctions ordering the Government to implement meaningful adequate competency evaluations for detainees where appropriate, and ordering the appointment of counsel for individuals found to be incompetent to represent themselves. They also sought attorneys' fees under the fee shifting provisions of the statutes under which the case was brought.
Congress had mandated that immigration and deportation proceedings must be fundamentally fair, and had directed the Attorney General to develop and promulgate meaningful safeguards for detainees lacking competence to represent themselves. Immigration and Nationality Act, U.S.C. §1229a(b)(3). The Government, the plaintiffs alleged, had failed to do this, implementing no system to identify such individuals and failing to ensure fair hearings for mentally incompetent detainees. The Complaint alleges that the Government had not even established procedures defining competence or whether a person was mentally incompetent. No system was in place for assigning counsel to incompetent individuals. The complaint characterizes the few regulations that had been established as "safeguards" as in fact functioning as barriers to the appointment of counsel, making it easier to deport incompetent individuals without regard to their legal immigration status.
One of the named plaintiffs, Mr. Franco-Gonzalez, who had been previously diagnosed with moderate mental retardation (characterized by an IQ between 35 and 55), had been identified by the Government as incompetent in 2005, but was not provided with counsel. Instead, the Immigration Judge administratively closed his case because of his lack of counsel and his mental condition. The plaintiff remained in detention by the Government for four and a half years without a hearing. He was released three days after the lawsuit was filed, apparently in response to the filing, with the Government retaining the right to detain him again at will.
The other named plaintiffs had all been diagnosed with schizophrenia or other mental conditions involving psychosis, and included several lawful permanent residents of the United States. Most of these men were forced to represent themselves in immigration court despite their established mental health diagnoses and their exhibiting symptoms of psychosis. Most or all of them never had their competency evaluated while their cases were before the immigration courts.
The complaint argued that the Rehabilitation Act required the appointment of counsel and prompt custody hearings as a reasonable accommodation for disabled individuals who are discriminated against in regards to their level of access to the immigration courts. It also argued that the Due Process Clause of the Constitution required the appointment of counsel for mentally incompetent individuals, because without counsel they would not have full and fair immigration hearings. They also argued that the same clause prevents prolonged detention without a custody hearing to determine whether detention is necessary.
Prior to the filing of the Third Amended Complaint described above, the court had already made several rulings. On December 27, 2010, the Court (Judge Dolly Gee) granted the Pplaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, which enjoined the Government, pending the outcome of a trial on the merits of the case, from pursuing further immigration proceedings against the named plaintiffs unless they were first appointed qualified counsel. Judge Gee also ordered the release from detention of two of the named plaintiffs. 767 F.Supp.2d 1034 (C.D. Cal 2010).
On May 4, 2011, and October 2, 2011, Judge Gee ordered two additional Preliminary Injunctions, each in response to a motion filed by a named plaintiff, ordering the Government to either hold a bond hearing within 45 days to determine whether their ongoing detention was justified, or alternatively to release them from detention on conditions of supervision. The two men were released. 828 F.Supp.2d 1133 (C.D. Cal 2011)
On November 21, 2011, the Court certified the class, allowing the suit to move forward as a class action.
On April 23, 2013, Judge Gee granted in part the Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, finding that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act required the Government to provide qualified representatives to represent class members in all aspects of their removal and detention proceedings. She also found that the Government was in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which forbids detentions longer than 180 days without a custody hearing. The court granted a permanent injunction requiring the Government to provide class members with counsel, and to provide timely custody hearings in accordance with the INA.
The day prior to this ruling (but in response to this case), the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced a new nationwide policy to require that immigration detention facilities perform screenings for serious mental disorders or conditions where appropriate, and to ensure the availability of competency hearings and independent psychological and psychiatric examinations. Detainees found to be incompetent who are unrepresented by counsel will, by this new policy, be provided with qualified representation.
On March 14, 2014, the parties reached a partial settlement agreement that dismissed causes of action six and seven (violation of the right to release under INA and the Due Process Clause, respectively). The court dismissed the remaining causes of action on September 25, 2015, when the parties reached a final settlement agreement. The settlement addressed Arizona, California, and Washington individuals with qualified mental conditions who had been given final orders of removal on or after November 21, 2011 and allowed them to file a motion to reopen their cases with the Board of Immigration Appeals or the Immigration Court. For individuals who had already been removed from the country, ICE agreed to assist their return to the United States by processing their paperwork, restoring their previous immigration status, and partially paying for their travel expenses.
Additionally, on October 29, 2014, the court issued an order further implementing their permanent injunction, outlining the screening process that Defendants need to implement to identify individuals with serious mental disorders and assign them qualified representation.
Finally, on October 8, 2015, the parties reached an agreement to pay $9,500,000 in attorneys' fees.
Thereafter, the docket contains entries related to the monitoring of the settlement. Alex Colbert-Taylor - 06/20/2013
Allison Hight - 10/25/2015
Virginia Weeks - 11/05/2016