Prior to 2013, people who were found to be incompetent to represent themselves due to mental health conditions were still regularly forced to represent themselves in Immigration Court if they could not afford a private attorney. In April 2013, a class action lawsuit, Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder, significantly changed that by expanding the legal protections in place for certain individuals detained in ICE custody and suffering from serious mental disorders.
In Franco-Gonzalez the Ninth Circuit District Court ordered the federal government to provide appointed counsel at government expense to individuals who were:
- Found to be incompetent to represent themselves as a result of a serious mental disability or defect
- Unrepresented by private counsel, and
- Detained in ICE custody in either California, Washington, or Arizona.
Following on the heels of the Franco-Gonzalez decision, the federal government established the National Qualified Representative Program (NQRP) in immigration courts throughout the country. The goal of the program was to provide enhanced protections to detained immigrants that have serious mental health disorders or conditions that render them incompetent to represent themselves.
Because of the Florence Project’s experience working with immigrants with serious mental health conditions, the very day that the Franco-Gonzalez order was issued, national immigration court officials contacted the Florence Project to serve as appointed counsel for cases in Arizona.