August 3, 2009

Accidental deportations: Mentally ill at risk

I've blogged a few times about deportations in which ICE officials accidentally scoop up U.S. citizens and whisk them off to foreign lands where their families cannot find them. Mentally ill people are especially at risk, due to their potential to become confused. But in one of the more outlandish cases, 52-year-old Leonard Robert Parrish, an African American chef in Houston, was recently detained by ICE because a jailer thought his Brooklyn accent sounded foreign.

As it turns out, such cases are far from rare. A special report in the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that among the 400,000-odd people detained annually by ICE, hundreds may be U.S. citizens who are wrongly suspected of being foreign.

Once detained, these people may find it difficult to get out of the system. Immigration detainees, unlike those in the criminal justice system, lack due process protections such as the right to legal counsel or telephone calls. Many are poor, and some are mentally ill.

"If it can happen to U.S. citizens, you can imagine how few procedural protections are available to everybody else," says Chuck Roth, litigation director for the National Immigration Justice Center in Chicago.

My advice: If you are working with anyone whose citizenship status is less than crystal-clear (such as naturalized citizens), encourage them to get their papers in order. In this time of anti-immigration paranoia, better safe than sorry.

The investigative report is online HERE.

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