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Judge gives green light to case seeking counsel for mentally disabled immigrant detainees
LOS ANGELES (AP) ' A federal judge has granted class-action status to a case brought on behalf of mentally disabled detainees who lack legal representation in immigration court.
The order issued under seal in November by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee was made public Monday. The case involves detainees in California, Washington and Arizona who have been deemed mentally incompetent to represent themselves.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant advocates want the federal government to appoint lawyers to represent mentally disabled detainees. Advocates brought the case last year on behalf of two men who had been detained for years.
A message left seeking comment at the Department of Justice was not immediately returned.
Immigrants are not required to use attorneys in deportation proceedings and attorneys are not provided free-of-charge in immigration court.
Gee previously ordered the government to provide representation to three mentally disabled detainees, said Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Southern California.
"It certainly paves the way for the court to require the government to actually appoint lawyers or legal representatives for all those people," Arulanantham said of the judge's decision.
Arulanantham estimated that between 200 and 300 mentally disabled people are held in immigration detention on any given day in the three states. In court filings, the federal government indicated there were 55 mentally disabled detainees in custody on Feb. 14, 2010.