When Mental Health Crises Lead To Deportation

In July 2018, an Austin, Texas woman faced the possibility of deportation after experiencing a mental health crisis. The woman went missing, and when police found her, she threatened to harm herself and appeared to have delusions. Rather than help her find mental health treatment, the police officers decided to handcuff the young woman. In response, the woman acted aggressively toward the police officers which lead to her arrest for assault on a public servant. After her arrest, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put a hold on her. So instead of receiving the mental health treatment she so desperately needed, the young woman with schizophrenia was now facing deportation.

The Source of the Problem

ICE eventually dropped the hold on the young woman after pressure from multiple attorneys. But this young woman is not the first person with a mental disability to face deportation after a mental health crisis. The problem is that many jurisdictions send armed police officers into situations involving someone with mental health issues who may be acting erratically but are not committing a crime. These officers may not be trained on how to handle someone with a mental illness and often lose patience during a mental health crisis. Their tactics may escalate a situation that could otherwise be handled by someone with the proper training.

This escalation of a mental health crisis often leads to the arrest of the person having the crisis. The person may not respond well to the officers’ tactics and act in a seemingly aggressive manner. Once the person is in the criminal justice system, they become subject to an ICE detainer which puts them face to face with the possibility of deportation. This is especially true in states like Texas where sanctuary cities have been prohibited, and ICE is contacted when someone is suspected to be undocumented.


Mental health advocates say that the way to avoid deportations of those in a mental health crisis is to prevent arrests of those with mental illness and instead direct them toward treatment. Programs like the one in Dallas that pairs police officers with social workers and paramedics can be put into place to change the way first responders treat mental health crises. With trained professionals on the scene who can de-escalate a situation, fewer arrests will result, and fewer individuals will face deportation as a result of their mental illness.

If you or a loved one with a mental disability has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

Recent Posts