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Judge: Mentally Ill Migrants Have Right To Lawyer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigration officials must provide court representation for two mentally disabled men fighting deportation, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee's decision Wednesday is one of the first requiring the government to provide attorneys to defendants in immigration proceedings.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which brought the case against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, argued that mentally disabled detainees cannot get a fair hearing without legal representation. Unlike criminal courts, immigration courts are not required to provide defense attorneys to indigent defendants.

"What we've said is that can't be the rule for people with serious mental disabilities," said ACLU lawyer Ahilan Arulanantham in a statement.

The judge ruled that the appointed representative does not have to be a lawyer, but must meet other criteria.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the Orange County Register the agency had no comment because litigation is still pending.

The ruling stems from several cases that have since become a class-action lawsuit alleging federal officials have deprived detainees of their Constitutional right to due process and violated federal anti-discrimination laws to protect people with disabilities.

The first suit was filed in March on behalf of Jose Antonio Franco, a 30-year-old Costa Mesa man who functions at the mental level of a child and cannot tell time or remember his birthday, and another detainee with serious mental disabilities.

Both men spent years in immigration custody without legal assistance or a chance to challenge their detention, according to court documents. Days after the lawsuit was filed, both men were released from detention.

In November, the ACLU asked the judge to appoint representation for the suit's named plaintiffs suffering from serious mental disabilities.

Wednesday's ruling pertained to two of those plaintiffs, who are both legal residents facing imminent deportation for criminal convictions.

Ever Martinez-Rivas, 31, suffers from schizophrenia and pleaded guilty to using force to inflict bodily injury. Both a psychiatrist and an immigration judge found him mentally incompetent.

In the other case, Aleksandr Petrovich Khukhryanskiy, 45, a Ukrainian refugee, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He was convicted of attempted assault and robbery five years ago. He has been detained by immigration since April.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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