When José moved his family to the United States from Mexico nearly two decades ago, he had hopes of giving his children a better life.
But now he worries about the future of his 21-year-old-son, who has lived in central Illinois since he was a toddler. José’s son has a criminal record, which could make him a target for deportation officers. KHN is not using the son’s name because of those risks and is using the father’s middle name, José, because both men are in the U.S. without legal permission.
José’s son was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder last year and has faced barriers to getting affordable treatment, in part because he doesn’t have legal status. His untreated conditions have led to scrapes with the law.
Mental health advocates say many people with untreated mental illness run the risk of cycling in and out of the criminal justice system, and the situation is particularly fraught for those without legal status.
“If he gets deported, he’d practically be lost in Mexico, because he doesn’t know Mexico,” said José, speaking through an interpreter. “I brought him here very young and, with his illness, where is he going to go? He’s likely to end up on the street.”
It’s unclear how many people have been deported because of issues linked to mental illness; good records are not available, said Talia Inlender, an attorney for immigrants’ rights with the Los Angeles-based pro bono law firm Public Counsel. But estimates from the American Civil Liberties Union suggest that tens of thousands of immigrants deported each year have a mental disability.
Inlender, who represents people with mental disabilities in deportation hearings, said that when the lack of access to community-based treatment eventually leads to a person being detained in an immigration facility, that person risks further deterioration because many facilities are not equipped to provide the needed care.
On top of that, she said, immigrants facing deportation in most states don’t generally have a right to public counsel during the removal proceedings and have to represent themselves. Inlender points out that an immigrant with a mental disability could be particularly vulnerable without the help of a lawyer.
Read more on KaiserHealthNews.org.