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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hundreds of mentally disabled immigrants ordered deported after having to represent themselves in court will get a chance to contest their expulsion with help from an attorney under a settlement approved on Friday, a civil liberties group said.
A federal judge in Los Angeles, Dolly Gee, signed off on the settlement, which stems from a class-action lawsuit brought against the U.S. government in 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a statement.
An estimated 900 immigrants from various countries, mostly in Latin America and Asia, who received deportation notices could seek permanent U.S. residency under the settlement, said Carmen Iguina, an ACLU attorney who worked on the case.
An unspecified number of those individuals were ordered deported but have remained in the United States with their cases on appeal.
The negotiated agreement between the ACLU and the U.S. Justice Department followed a 2013 ruling by Gee that immigrants with serious mental disabilities have a right to legal representation in deportation proceedings.
"It was a huge victory, truly a landmark ruling, and we're very happy that our class members were no longer going to be forced to stand alone in court," Iguina said.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement referred questions on the settlement to a Justice Department official, who could not immediately provide comment.
The lead plaintiff in the case, who has been allowed to remain in the United States, had originally been expected to represent himself in court even though he had the mental capacity of a child and could not dial a phone, Iguina said.
The plaintiffs originally had their immigration cases heard in California, Arizona and Washington state but the government has agreed to provide competency evaluations and screenings for immigrants nationwide to determine if they are eligible for legal aid, Iguina said.
Not all the hundreds of members of the class will necessarily win the right to reside in the United States. But most will be able to present their case with assistance from an attorney and in some instances the U.S. government will pay for their travel back to the country, Iguina said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott