In Letter to Attorney General, Rights Groups Demand Due Process Protections for Non-Citizens with Mental Disabilities

September 10, 2009 - In the spirit of the signing of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 19th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, advocates call for safeguards to ensure due process for persons with mental disabilities in removal proceedings. Both events honor our nation’s commitment to provide reasonable accommodations for and ensure basic fairness for all people with disabilities. Unfortunately, this principle is absent in our nation’s immigration system in which non-citizens with mental disabilities are not afforded these basic rights.

On July 24, 2009, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and a diverse group of community organizations, attorneys and physicians committed to protecting the rights of people with mental disabilities sent a letter to the United States Attorney General calling for reasonable accommodations that ensure basic fairness for people with mental disabilities in our nation’s immigration courts.  The signatories presented four main recommendations that would help the government ensure these basic rights while providing a substantial cost benefit by increasing efficiency in immigration courts.  These recommendations are well-established in civil and criminal courts throughout the country and have proven successful at both upholding the nation’s commitment to equal protection for persons with mental disabilities and creating cost savings for those systems. The recommendations include:

  • Appoint counsel to indigent people with mental disabilities who do not have legal representation.
  • Appoint guardians ad litem to people who are found mentally incompetent.
  • Enact regulations that standardize procedures for adjudicating competency in immigration court and that give immigration judges the authority to provide reasonable accommodations to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities, including the power to administratively close cases or terminate proceedings where appropriate.
  • Train immigration judges to recognize mental disabilities and make reasonable accommodations to ensure a fundamentally fair hearing.

The Attorney General is charged with prescribing “safeguards to protect the rights and privileges” of persons with mental disabilities in immigration court.  That charge flows from our nation’s commitment to ensure basic fairness for all people with disabilities.  Such safeguards should be first and foremost in any discussion of immigration reform. We call on the Attorney General to revive the integrity of our judicial system by protecting the rights of the most vulnerable.

To read about one immigrant's personal story, see this article from the New York Times.

To read the full letter and a list of all signatories, click on the link below.


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

January 19, 2010