Students in Detainee Rights Clinic Work to Protect the Rights of Immigration Detainees with Mental Disorders

January 23, 2015

Student attorneys in the Law School’s Detainee Rights Clinic recently won rulings on appeal for two clients with mental disorders who were not screened for competency during the merits phase of their proceedings before the immigration court.

Both clients had documented histories of mental illness but had never been assessed to determine if they were competent to take part in the legal proceedings they faced. Specifically, no determination had been made as to whether they understood the nature and object of the proceedings and could effectively consult with an attorney or other representative. In the first case, student attorneys from the Detainee Rights Clinic—Kristin Johnson (’15), Bobae Kim (’15), and Brent Johnson (’16)—represented the client on his brief to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), arguing for a remand to assess the threshold competency issue, as well as the merits of the case. The BIA granted the remand. In the second case, the BIA granted a remand as well; the Detainee Rights Clinic continues representation of that client before an immigration judge, seeking procedural safeguards under the BIA’s precendential 2011 decision Matter of M-A-M-, if warranted.

“The immigration detention and removal system is a complicated and confusing morass for anyone,” said Professor Linus Chan, who teaches the Detainee Rights Clinic. “However, when those who suffer from mental disorders are forced to undergo the process, it becomes clear how and why procedural protections—such as attorney representation and consideration of competency—can become matters of life and death. I am proud that our students are pushing for the most vulnerable to have hearings that are fair and just.”

The Detainee Rights Clinic is part of the Law School’s Center for New Americans, founded in 2013 to expand urgently needed legal services for noncitizens, pursue litigation that will improve U.S. immigration laws, and educate noncitizens about their rights.

Maya Tao (’15), Meghan Heesch, Kristin Johnson (’15), Bobae Kim (’15), Linus Chan, Brent Johnson (’16), and Crystal Tsai (’15)
Maya Tao (’15), Meghan Heesch, Kristin Johnson (’15), Bobae Kim (’15), Linus Chan, Brent Johnson (’16), and Crystal Tsai (’15)

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