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Important strides are currently being made toward increasing procedural due process protections for noncitizens with serious mental disabilities in removal proceedings, such as providing them with competency hearings and appointed counsel. This Article goes even further, arguing that courts should recognize a substantive due process right to competence in removal proceedings, which would prevent those found mentally incompetent from being deported. Recognizing a right to competence in a quasi-criminal proceeding such as removal would not be unprecedented, as most states already recognize this right in juvenile adjudication proceedings. The Article demonstrates that the same reasons underlying the prohibition against trial of incompetent defendants apply to removal proceedings. Competence is necessary to protect the fairness and accuracy of the proceedings, safeguard statutory and constitutional rights, uphold the prohibition against in absentia hearings, and preserve the moral dignity of the process. In addition removal can represent an extension of the criminal process. This Article explores potential concerns about recognizing a right to competence, such as exposing the respondent to indefinite civil commitment and forfeiting the opportunity to pursue applications that could lead to being granted legal status by the immigration court. A closer examination of these concerns suggests that they may be less serious than they initially appear. Finally, the Article explores some alternatives to recognizing a right to competence and explains why they fail to provide sufficient protection.

Publication Citation

65 Hastings L.J. 929 (2014).