What would you say if you heard about people living with severe mental illness being exposed to:
- A complicated legal system
- Charges without a lawyer
- Detention for long periods of time and
- Inappropriate or nonexistent psychiatric care?
The Washington Post reported that 15 percent of the total immigrant population in detention lives with a mental illness—an estimated 57,000 in 2008. Detainees with no family member or friends are appointed an ICE representative to act as their court “custodian”—“a blatant conflict of interest.”
While the ICE’s own statutes require certain standards of treatment for detainees living with mental illness, the reality usually fails to live up to those standards. Two reports, Justice for Immigration’s Hidden Population by Texas Appleseed, and Deportation by Default from Human Rights Watch, detail the conditions to which these most vulnerable of detainees are often subjected.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rules:
- ICE Judges have great discretion in allowing release to the community while an outcome is being determined.
- People with a mental illness should receive appropriate treatment or be transferred somewhere they can get it.
“It costs seven times as much to incarcerate someone with mental illness,” according to Senator Russell Feingold, yet current detention practice opts for the more expensive, less humane alternative rather than keeping people living with mental illness in the community while their fates are being decided.
While there is no simple solution to the country’s immigration problem, the tens of thousands of people living with mental illness in the limbo of our country’s detention centers might have more similarities to those of us on the outside than we realize.