A group of Georgetown Law Center students and faculty released a report this week on human rights violations associated with the deportation of persons with mental disabilities by the United States.

The group focused on the unique case of Jamaica, which they discovered receives a significant amount of deportees from the United States but lacks the resources to aid and protect them. After almost seven months of legal research, fact-finding trips in the United States and Jamaica and conversations with a broad range of individuals involved with deportations, the Georgetown Human Rights Action group reported the culmination of its findings.

The group concluded that the most vulnerable refugees, the mentally disabled, are sent to countries unprepared for the obstacles that await them, with many of them ending up homeless, unemployed and marginalized. Almost all suffer from the lack of adequate medical care as well.

“I was very surprised,” said Katie Shay (LAW ’12), another Georgetown Law student. “We had heard about the problems before we went, all the immigration attorneys had said we had to go to Jamaica because it was so bad, but hearing the stories from the people themselves — it was heartbreaking.”

After leaving the United States, most deportees whom the group interviewed lost access to the medication and quality health care they required. Back in their home countries, they also faced chronic abuse and exploitation by a society in which mental disabilities are misunderstood and those who suffer from them are stigmatized.

“Looking at the issue from a human rights perspective, countries have an obligation not to return people to places where they face great harm,” said Sarnata Reynolds, one of the group’s faculty advisers and policy director for migrant rights at Amnesty International. “A lot of issues explored by the students centered on access to justice, and the truth is there is none for people with mental issues.”

The report offers suggestions on how to reform this flawed process, including transferring medical records to healthcare providers in the return country and helping deportees find housing and jobs to rectify some major problems in this area.

The idea for the study grew out of a Law Center student group’s experiences studying the impact of U.S. policy on Latin American refugees.

“The team chose Jamaica after learning that a disproportional number of people deported there suffered from serious mental disabilities and after hearing of the pervasive stigma in Jamaica against both deported persons and the mentally disabled,” said Sara Kane (LAW ’12), one of the nine law students who authored the report.

“During our week in Jamaica, we conducted 56 interviews with deported persons, their families, service providers, human rights advocates, academics and Jamaican and British government officials,” Kane said.

As part of the study, students examined the largely successful re-adaptation programs of other countries, notably Great Britain.

“The U.K. has funded programs in over 25 nations that help deportees get back on their feet,” Shay said. “We’re hoping U.S. policy makers will consider the success of the British model in deciding to implement re-integration programs in more countries, including Jamaica.”

Members of the Georgetown group have scheduled meetings with government officials from Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review to further advocate reforms in U.S. deportation policy.

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