GOP reps introduce bill to stop DOJ allowing judges to consider criminal illegal immigrants' mental health

Garland had overruled a prior DOJ board decision from 2014 on the matter last month By Adam Shaw , Houston Keene | Fox News

FIRST ON FOX: House Republicans on Thursday introduced legislation that would stop a Department of Justice move to allow immigration judges to consider the mental health status of an illegal immigrant convicted of an aggravated felony when considering their asylum claim or whether to withhold deportation.

The Asylum Claims Improvement Act, introduced by Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, would block judges from taking the mental health of an illegal immigrant convicted of an aggravated felony when considering their asylum claim or a withholding of removal.

The Immigration and Nationality Act makes illegal immigrants ineligible for both asylum and withholding of removal -- where illegal immigrants are not returned because they have a fear of persecution if returned to their country of origin -- if they have been convicted of a "particularly serious crime" that constitutes a danger to the community.

Attorney General Merrick Garland last month overruled a 2014 decision by the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review’s Board of Immigration Appeals in which the board found that when judging that seriousness of the crime, "a person’s mental health is not a factor to be considered in a particularly serious crime analysis."

The case before Garland involved a Mexican national convicted in April 2017 of burglary in New Jersey and sentenced to four years in prison. He sought to block his deportation by claiming he would be persecuted because of his sexual orientation and a mental health condition if deported to Mexico.

The immigration judge dismissed the application because he did not consider the immigrant’s mental health. A subsequent appeal was also dismissed by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Garland had in December directed the board to send him the case for review, and then announced he had reversed the decision.

"In some circumstances, a respondent’s mental health condition may indicate that the respondent does not pose a danger to the community," he said, giving the example of a domestic violence victim who was convicted of assaulting their abuser, or that an assault was influenced by post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Of course, an individual may pose a danger to the community notwithstanding a mental health condition, and in those cases, the ‘particularly serious crime’ bar to asylum and withholding of removal may apply," he said."But the potential relevance of mental health evidence to the dangerousness inquiry suffices to establish that such evidence should not categorically be disregarded, as [the board’s decision] held."

Garland also vacated the Board’s decision in the case of the Mexican burglar.

"Going forward, immigration adjudicators may consider a respondent’s mental health in determining whether a respondent, "having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of the United States," he said.

The legislation introduced by Nehls would stop that from happening by amending INA itself to bar the consideration of mental health in such a circumstances.

"America is already facing an immigration crisis and a mental health crisis, we cannot exacerbate both by giving criminal immigrants who claim mental illness a free pass into our country," Nehls said in a statement. "This is common sense for most Americans, but not AG Garland."

Nehls linked the decision to broader Republican complaints that the Biden administration has not done enough to stop the ongoing months-long crisis at the southern border.

" Time after time, the Biden administration has shown they have no interest in stopping the border crisis, in fact, their policies indicate that they welcome it," he said. "If the Biden Administration won’t act, Republicans will."

Co-sponsors on the bill are Reps. Jeff Van Drew, R-NJ, Brian Babin, R-Texas, Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, Randy Weber, R-Texas, Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.

The bill also secured the support of conservative groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Citizens for Renewing America and the Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime (AVIAC).

"It would be ludicrous to allow mental health to be considered for an asylum claim or withholding of deportation," AVIAC President Don Rosenberg said in a statement. "Our country already cannot sufficiently support all Americans with mental health concerns, let alone those who are criminal illegal aliens. Without this legislation, we will become swamped with criminal asylum seekers who will further tax our systems and more likely end up homeless on the streets with the potential to commit further crime."

The move by DOJ comes as the administration is also pushing an asylum overhaul that began its rollout at the end of last month. That rule will see asylum decisions adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rather than immigration judges as part of an effort to shorten what is often an over five-year process.