Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), which provides pro bono representation for immigrants, recently profiled attorney Ting Chen and her appellate victory on behalf of a mentally incompetent immigration detainee:
Volunteer Attorney Protects Mentally Incompetent Man from Deportation
Josue* came to the United States almost 10 years ago as a teenager. As a young adult, he began to show symptoms of severe mental illness, including auditory hallucinations. Ultimately, he came to the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, who placed him in removal proceedings. During his deportation hearings, Josue had no lawyer. He complained to the Immigration Judge that he was hearing voices telling him to harm people. The government’s health records indicated that he suffered from a psychotic disorder. Josue reported that the detention center had prescribed him Zyprexa, a powerful psychotropic medication.
Despite all of this, the Immigration Judge found Josue competent to participate in removal proceedings without a representative. Instead of conducting a forensic competency evaluation, or even relying on the medical records presented by the government, the Judge credited Josue’s statements that he could block out the voices and that Zyprexa was “for depression.” The Immigration Judge went on to deny Josue’s application for asylum and order him removed.
Protecting the rights of people with limited mental capacity is a priority for the BIA Pro Bono Project, and Ting Chen, an immigration practitioner from San Francisco, California, volunteered to represent Josue. Her brief persuaded the Board to send the case back to the Immigration Judge for a new competency hearing. In their opinion, the Board expressed concern that the Immigration Judge’s competency determination failed to address Josue’s documented mental health diagnosis and prescribed psychotropic medications. On remand, the Immigration Court found that Josue was entitled to government-appointed counsel because he did not have sufficient mental capacity to proceed without assistance. Ultimately, the Immigration Court terminated the proceedings against Josue, and he was released from immigration detention.