May 14, 2009
Immigration Limbo for the Mentally Ill
A New York Times reporter recently uncovered a story about a woman named Xiu Ping Jiang, a Chinese immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1996 hoping to gain asylum. Jiang was forcibly sterilized in China at age twenty after the birth of her second child, which violated the Chinese government's one child rule. Since then, Jiang has remained transient in the U.S., battling depression since being separated from her children. Last fall, immigration officers caught her en route to a new job in another state.
Despite the urgency of her situation, as an undocumented immigrant, Jiang has no legal right to government-funded representation in immigration court. This has caused her case to be drawn out for more than a year while she languishes in a detention center. With a history of attempted suicide, her family members in the States grow increasingly fearful that they will lose their fragile sister inside the system. As her mental health continues to deteriorate, her rights are also compromised by her inability to help in her own defense. With no rules in place to determine competency in immigration hearings, Jiang’s worsening condition makes it far less likely than a state-appointed attorney will take her case.
Low-income American citizens have a hard enough time finding proper support for their legal battles and mental health. Immigrant communities face incredible obstacles in this way as well, and Jiang's story is unfortunately quite common - just rarely reported. It isn't uncommon for prisoners to be lost in the system or even disappear. Memoirs like Fauziya Kassindja’s Do They Hear You When You Cry have sought to bring attention to the plight of women in detention centers, and the recently released Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women by Victoria Law focuses on women’s struggles against the system from the inside. Yet the complicated nature of Jiang’s case makes it difficult to catalog, and with so little attention being paid, that may not change any time soon.
As a society, we fail others when we are not outraged by their stories and when we do not demand better treatment of prisoners (who, in a case like Jiang's, haven't even committed a serious crime and are only being detained as immigrants who lack proper paperwork). Maybe what’s most disturbing is that Xiu Ping Jiang’s story has become just one more headline to be forgotten. One day of frenzied blogging followed the Times’ regional reporting on her case, and then for everyone else, life went on as usual.