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Op-Ed

Immigration detainees: Lost in America

The immigration courts system is failing those detainees who have serious mental disabilities.

July 12, 2011|By Talia Inlender

Canto sat in jail for 10 months in two states — at taxpayer expense — going through proceedings he could not understand or meaningfully participate in. After all that time shackled and shuffled from jail cell to courtroom and back again, there was no closure in Canto's case; he has neither a grant of permission to remain in the country nor an order requiring his removal. In a system in which the most vulnerable are left without lawyers, nobody wins — not immigrants and their families, not taxpayers and not the government.

Back in Trinity Park, the kids and couples are turning toward their Friday evening plans, and the regulars are heading north to the shelters of skid row. "Miguel?" says the man with the clouded yellow eyes. "The name sounds familiar, but I — I don't know. Maybe a different park?"

Talia Inlender is a staff attorney at Public Counsel in Los Angeles. She is part of a team, which includes the ACLU, the law firm of Sullivan Cromwell and immigrants' rights and mental health organizations, litigating Franco-Gonzalez vs. Holder, a class-action lawsuit seeking appointment of counsel for immigration detainees with severe mental disabilities.

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