I first came across this decision when I was listening to NPR. In this case, which is a first of its kind, a federal judge ordered that states have to provide legal representation for immigrants with mental disabilities – when these immigrants are being detained and facing deportation.
This case is really surprising because immigrants generally do not have a right to an attorney. The Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 371 US 335 (1963), decided that the right to counsel is a fundamental right in criminal cases. In INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 US 1032 (1984), the Supreme Court reaffirmed that a deportation case is not a criminal case, but an administrative one.
Since deportation proceedings are not a criminal crime, there is no right to a lawyer. The detainees not guaranteed counsel had presumably covered children, the mentally disabled, victims of sex trafficking, refugees, torture survivors and legal permanent residents.
Federal Judge Dolly M. Fee ordered immigration courts in three states to provide legal representation for immigrants with mental disabilities who are in detention and facing deportation, if they cannot represent themselves. The immigrant in this case had severe mental retardation that prevented him from arguing for himself in court or even understanding his situation.
The NY Times reports that subsequently, “federal immigration officials issued a new policy that would expand the California ruling nationwide, making government-paid legal representation available to people with mental disabilities in courts in every state.”
Edited: To add other Supreme Court cases.