Grant Will Support Work of CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP)
Borealis Philanthropy’s Immigration Litigation Fund has awarded CREEC a $75,000 grant to support IDAP’s work to advance systemic change litigation on behalf of immigrants in detention. In August, 2019, CREEC and others filed a nationwide class action against ICE for failure to monitor detention centers, resulting in unlawful conditions of confinement – inadequate medical/mental health care, improper use of segregation and disability discrimination. Our clients have experienced horrific conditions of confinement resulting in disastrous medical consequences for them, risk of harm, and discrimination on the basis of their disability.
Elizabeth Jordan, Director of the Immigration Detention Accountability Project, states, “The Fraihat v ICE case is going to take a lot of time and resources to bring to a just and humane conclusion. The Borealis grant will help us ensure that our brave clients have their day in court in a way that advances their rights and ensures systemic change to help incarcerated immigrants. We are grateful to Borealis for their support of CREEC and others who are working to make sure that the civil and human rights of all people are met.”
Borealis Philanthropy works with funders to direct resources to people building powerful and thriving communities. Borealis’ Immigration Litigation Fund is a national funder collaborative whose goal is to ensure that the nation’s immigration enforcement system is fair, humane, and prioritizes the civil and human rights of those vulnerable to deportation. This is the second year that IDAP has applied for and received grant funding through the Immigration Litigation Fund.
Yesterday, we celebrated the life and mourned the passing of Judge Wiley Y. Daniel, a Senior United States District Judge in the District of Colorado. I have been privileged to practice before Judge Daniel from early in my legal career to earlier this year, and each time it was a delightful experience. He was always prepared, knowledgeable, practical, respectful, and funny. He worked hard to put everyone in the courtroom at ease so we could get to the business at hand, for example, carefully establishing out-of-state counsel’s college football and basketball allegiances before proceeding.
In one of my earliest appearances before Judge Daniel, I was arguing for wheelchair access to Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Opposing counsel observed that Red Rocks was built into the side of a steep mountain. Judge Daniel responded by asking (something to the effect of — unlike the below, we didn’t get the transcript), “That’s all well and good, but why should the burden of that geography fall only on people with disabilities?” He has, from the get go, understood the fundamental premise of disability civil rights.
In June, 2018, we again appeared before Judge Daniel on the question of wheelchair access to Red Rocks, though this time it was to seek final approval of a class action settlement addressing ticketing and scalping problems that had excluded people with disabilities. Final approval hearings are always upbeat events, as the parties have settled and appear before the judge jointly requesting his blessing of the settlement. Judge Daniel quizzed us on the details of the agreement, indicated his intent to approve it, and then took the opportunity to talk about civil rights and disability rights:
I have had occasion, both as a lawyer, and more importantly as a Judge, to see the evolution of the [ADA]. … [T]here have been strides to make accessibility more an important ingredient of public access to facilities, transportation modes and anything else. So what I’m really saying is, since I have been around a long time, I’m pleased that we’re making strides, but I’m also disappointed that lawsuits have to be filed before anybody, such as the City and County of Denver or other public bodies have to do the right thing, and so I hope that this outcome here can be another further example of how the law can work in a proactive way, but hopefully it also sends a message that even without a lawsuit, I think entities such as City and County of Denver and other public entities have an obligation to, on their own, figure out what should be done to make it easier, rather than harder, for folks with disabilities to have the same access that everybody else has.
[T]hat’s why one of the wonders of being a practicing attorney is [that] practicing attorneys, if they are interested in social justice, if they are interested in being social engineers for justice, can still play a vital role in moving the needle more quickly.
[A]ll of that is what I am uplifting and raising as an illustration [that] we are making progress, but we’re a long way from perfection, and I say that parallels some of the issues that still exist in this country on racial issues, where we have civil rights laws that go back to the mid 60s, but we still have, today, the clear rise of white supremacy, we clearly have nationalists that are running for congress today, running hateful statements and awful things, but they will get votes. And so I think our country has a long way to go to, in effect, liberate us from the battles that have been in existence and will remain in existence, and to the extent that courts can help resolve them, I’m just gratified that I can play some small role in this, and hopefully we will reach a point, at some point, where these laws will become truly an integral part of the fabric of our life.
Judge Daniel, we are surpassingly gratified that you played such a large role in advancing civil rights in Colorado and improving the fabric of our life. We miss you very much.
Success! CREEC’s Annual Event, held on September 19, 2019, was met with resounding success. A beautiful evening greeted all 121 attendees at the History Colorado Center, many of whom enjoyed the spectacular city view from the balcony before heading inside to listen to remarks from Co-Executive Directors, Amy and Tim, and this year’s Challenging Discrimination Award recipient, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández.
This year’s event attracted teachers, lawyers, nonprofit professionals, volunteers, business people, graduate/law students, activists, parents, kids, and more. Amid the fun of the selfie photo booth with ‘Challenge Discrimination’ and ‘Badass Seeker of Justice’ signs, the ‘I Challenge Discrimination by…’ message board, and the overflowing information table with contributions from more than a dozen area non-profits, conversation flowed, and connections were made. The pervasive feeling seemed to be that together, we would continue to make positive change in our world.
Our event was made possible by the generous support of our 29 sponsors (who collectively gave more than $42,000), our event ticket holders, and CREEC’s numerous clients, ambassadors and advocates. Thank you one and all!
Whether or not you were able to attend CREEC’s event this year, you may enjoy checking out these resources:
- César’s inspiring remarks
- Photos from the evening
- Event slideshow showing highlights from CREEC’s year in review (alt text provided)
Remarks delivered at CREEC’s 2019 Annual Event by Challenging Discrimination award recipient, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández
Written by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández
What an immense honor it is to be recognized in this way. I am humbled to celebrate the work that CREEC does and to remember the people who they advocate alongside. Among CREEC’s clients are people like Edelberto García Guerrero, who lives at the Aurora immigration prison, while his wife and children remain in Utah, and Stephenson Teneng, an asylum seeker who was surrounded by barbed wire in the California desert while ICE claimed he was not being punished. To CREEC, their stories are worth telling because they should not be happening.
We live in a moment in which the law is being subverted and traditions shoved aside in the service of suffering. In various parts of the world, including the United States, the lived reality of migration has been turned upside down by the cruelty of the power of policing pressed on law. In the United States, we see the inhumanity of the prison’s steel doors and around-the-clock surveillance rip through conversations about immigration law and policy. Despite the intensity of migration policing, advocates like CREEC are finding inspiration in numbers and strength in the creative potential of imagination. As a teacher, a lawyer, and a writer, to be in their company is to be reminded that words can wound or words can salve, but whatever effect they have, words always matter.
The freedom-dreaming intellectual bell hooks reminds us that “intellectual work is a necessary part of liberation struggle.” Indeed, it must be because in dreams come visions of the impossible. If we can’t imagine the impossible, we can never make it real. Instead, we will be relegated to trying more of the same policy responses that led to large-scale confinement of migrants.
I begin my next book, Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants, with James Baldwin asking us to imagine more than what exists today. In The Fire Next Time, his powerful indictment of white supremacy’s pernicious ability to sit at the base of life in the United States of America, Baldwin wrote: “I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand.” Rooted in the racial injustices of the mid-twentieth century, Baldwin’s words are no less relevant today. He dares us to imagine what does not exist—even to imagine that for which words do not exist.
In recent years, human bondage has become increasingly commodified. Through hundreds of immigration prisons nationwide, ICE trades with GEO Group and CoreCivic. The federal government sends its money to private prison corporations and in exchange they lock up bodies, hidden behind the narrow windows of facilities from suburban Denver to the Sonoran Desert. Sometimes people are confined for so long that it seems as if the key has been lost. Instead, it is our moral compass that has skewed to the point that policymakers do not ask whether it is right to jail children. Instead, they ask whether children ought to be detained alone or with their parents.
The foundational legal safe harbor of asylum is being pushed to the brink of collapse, increasingly restricting human life to the lucky. This summer a father reached the Río Grande River ready to plead for his family’s safety with U.S. officials, only to be turned away. The family was pushed toward the river’s dangerous waters. When the father and his daughter waded across, neither would emerge alive. The world witnessed images of father and daughter dead on the riverbank, Valeria’s arm tucked inside Óscar’s shirt and wrapped around his neck, searching for the safety that would not come.
Ours is a world where the accident of birth often dictates the fruit that life reaps, where walls and fences, borders, bullets, and wealth often bring excess to our own plates while denying others the basic necessities of life. Ours is a world in which raw power tipped in the poisonous quiver of racism is returning to its traditional place at the head of the table. In moments like this, law too easily becomes a blunt instrument of indignity wrapped inside a whirlpool of myopic platitudes pitting order in a mythical fight against chaos. We must police and imprison, policymakers suggest, because if we do not the entire edifice of our reality will come tumbling upon us.
Law wielded as a weapon forces us to forget that there is also hope in law, that law can be a radical tool of resistance and a great moral compass. But for law to reach its potential, those of us who play with law, those of us trained as its wordsmiths, must do more than hope for justice. We must be willing to dream of one day living in a world where violence is not a feature of life, where premature death is but a tale from the past, and where the clank of steel doors and the isolation of barbed wire are nothing more than a nightmare from which it is possible to awaken.
I am humbled to stand with CREEC and with you as we close our eyes, not to avoid the trauma around us, nor to soften the pain of the blows we receive. We close our eyes to listen to the morning fog evaporate as the first rays of sunshine peer over the horizon, marking a new day. “On the seventh day… Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!… When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed…and they took the city.” In the biblical story of Jericho’s fall, the impossible came to pass because it was right that it be so and because Joshua’s followers dared to dream of a new beginning. Likewise, it is right that we embrace migrants, that CREEC advocates on their behalf, not despite their ordinariness, but because of it, and that collectively we dare to imagine what was previously unthinkable. “Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible,” writes Angela Davis.
We are living in a time of nightmares, some more easily forgotten then others. If nightmares can become reality, then why can’t dreams?
For Immediate Release
Thursday, September 19, 2019
COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS ORDERED TO PROVIDE VIDEOPHONES TO DEAF PRISONERS
Ruling comes three years after prisoner-initiated lawsuit filed.
DENVER — A Denver federal court yesterday ordered the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) to provide videophones for Deaf prisoners. This order ensures that Deaf prisoners will be able to communicate with their family and friends in sign language. The order comes after three years of litigation initiated pro se by lead plaintiff Bionca Rogers.
Ms. Rogers, a prisoner in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF), can hear, but her mother is Deaf. Before Ms. Rogers was incarcerated, she and her mother communicated by videophone – the now-widespread technology providing telecommunications for deaf people who communicate in sign language.
In late 2015, after arriving at DWCF, Ms. Rogers asked to contact her mother – guardian of her two young children – by videophone. CDOC refused, and told Ms. Rogers that she would have to use the teletypewriter, or TTY, 60-year-old technology that requires both parties to have TTY machines, and to type back and forth to each other. Since her mother – like most Deaf people – did not own a TTY, this required a three-step relay process: Ms. Rogers typed into the TTY; a TTY relay operator spoke her words to a video relay operator; who then interpreted them into ASL. When Ms. Rogers’s mother responded, the three-step process was repeated in reverse.
Because this is a very ineffective way of communicating – in no way equivalent to hearing prisoners speaking by phone with hearing friends and family – Ms. Rogers brought suit, initially under the First Amendment. A year later, CREEC attorney Amy Robertson joined the case on behalf of Ms. Rogers, and added as plaintiffs a number of other Deaf prisoners who were experiencing a similarly frustrating, ineffective, and unconstitutional communication situation.
“People in prison cannot be denied the right to communicate with loved ones. People with disabilities or people with disabled family members are no exception. This case ensures that the guidelines established in 1990 by the Americans for Disabilities Act are upheld and that Deaf people and their family members can communicate effectively while incarcerated in the State of Colorado. We are happy for our clients and glad to see that this type of discrimination will be discontinued in these facilities.”
The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination. http://creeclaw.org If you believe you have been denied effective communication because you are Deaf, please contact us at email@example.com.
Press Release: Broncos Stadium at Mile High Expands Services for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Fans with Open Captioning Service
For Immediate Release
Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019
Denver Broncos Football Club: Seth Medvin
CREEC: Amy Robertson 303-917-1870
BRONCOS STADIUM AT MILE HIGH EXPANDS SERVICES FOR
DEAF & HARD OF HEARING FANS WITH OPEN CAPTIONING SERVICE
Measures result from collaboration with deaf patron and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center
DENVER — Stadium Management Company (SMC), the Metropolitan Football Stadium District (MFSD) and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) announced on Thursday that Broncos Stadium at Mile High will expand its services for deaf & hard of hearing fans by providing open captioning on its LED ribbon boards.
Fully operational for stadium events, the open captioning service will be displayed on three LED boards at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Two boards are located on the southeast and southwest side adjacent to the Ring of Fame nameplates and one is on the northwest corner of the stadium.
Broncos Stadium at Mile High already provides closed captioning services for fans’ mobile devices and on assistive listening devices available for checkout from guest relations staff. In conjunction with CREEC and Kirstin Kurlander Garcia, a deaf sports fan and stadium patron, the stadium will now caption information spoken over the public address system on the LED boards.
The open captioning service will be used at Broncos home games, Denver Outlaws Major League Lacrosse games and other major stadium events (international soccer games, AMA Supercross, etc.). For more information about how the Broncos support and service deaf & hard of hearing fans, please visit www.broncosstadiumatmilehigh.com/stadium-information/guest-information.
The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination. http://creeclaw.org
Who is impacted by ICE’s disregard of medical, mental health, and disability needs of detained immigrants? Too many people. CREEC and others are working to put an end to it.
A refugee from Sudan, Hamida Ali has a mental disability and a history of suicide attempts. Despite this, Ms. Ali was left in a dorm by herself with no other detained individuals or guards for nine months, exacerbating her symptoms.
Edilberto Garcia Guerrero experiences chronic headaches and pain in his neck, shoulder, ear, and eye. He also has diminished vision and hearing. These all stem from an assault he suffered in ICE custody and have not been addressed by medical staff. Mr. Guerrero previously had reconstructive ankle surgery after falling off a roof. He fell in ICE custody while in ankle cuffs, causing the breakage or dislocation of screws from his previous surgery. Mr. Guerrero is still waiting for surgery.
These are just two people among the 15 individual plaintiffs and two organizational plaintiffs, Al Otro Lado and Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, named in a nationwide federal class action lawsuit filed on August 19, 2019 by CREEC, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe, LLP.
And our plaintiffs are not alone in suffering at the hands of ICE and their contractors. On any given day, about 55,000 people are being held in ICE custody. Last year, ICE detained a total of almost 400,000 immigrants. The Trump administration has funneled record numbers of immigrants into ICE prisons across America, subjecting thousands of men and women to in horrific, inhumane conditions in repurposed prisons and jails. These men and women are asylum seekers, longtime American residents, military veterans, teenagers, and refugees, among others.
“In two years of investigating conditions for people in ICE custody, it became clear to us at CREEC that this is essentially a massive prison system – people report shockingly similar poor conditions across the country. As a result, we decided to take on the system as a whole,” said Liz Jordan, director of CREEC’s Immigrant Detention Accountability Program.
Many of these facilities are operated by private, for-profit prison companies that charge an average of $208 per day for each person in their custody – more than double the $99 per day that the Federal Bureau of Prisons spends to incarcerate people convicted of federal crimes, according to that agency’s latest published statistics. At least 26 people have died while being held in ICE custody since Trump took office.
This suit – filed on August 19, 2019 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California –charges that ICE’s systemic failures violate the Fifth Amendment and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The complaint (found in full on CREEC’s case page) details how individuals in ICE custody are being denied health care, are facing discrimination due to their disabilities and being refused accommodations, and are being subjected to harmful isolation that amounts to punishment.
In this lawsuit, CREEC and our co-counsel seek an order requiring the federal government to comply with constitutional and statutory requirements for the treatment of detained immigrants. Government officials have long known about these inhumane conditions and the neglect of those in ICE custody, a situation that has worsened under President Trump’s policies. The mistreatment of sick and detained immigrants with disabilities was detailed in a report released in June by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. It revealed that ICE has continued to violate its own standards for facilities housing detained individuals. The suits seeks class action status so that any court rulings will apply to all facilities where ICE chooses to incarcerate people.
The named plaintiffs in this suit are detained at eight different facilities in six states: Adelanto Detention Center and Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in California; Florence Correctional Center in Arizona; Teller County Jail and Aurora Contract Detention Facility in Colorado; LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana; Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama; and Stewart Detention Center in Georgia.
The organizational plaintiffs in this suit have had to divert resources away from their missions to instead support immigrants struggling to survive in detention. For example, Al Otro Lado is a non-profit organization that provides pro bono legal services to immigrants, but has had to help them fight for medical and mental health care instead of fighting their cases. The Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice is dedicated to advocating for immigrant communities, but has had to hire staff and set up emergency protocols to help detained immigrants access adequate care.
ICE oversees a network of approximately 158 detention facilities across the country, where immigrants who are facing civil charges encounter cruel and abusive conditions that mirror – or are worse than – those found in criminal prisons.
And they are met with indifference when seeking medical and mental health care. Their complaints are frequently ignored or mocked by guards and staff.
“Guards told me it was better to be alone. It made me feel like no one cares about me. It was not better for me to be alone. I was living with my thoughts. I thought I was going to die,” said Hamida Ali, a plaintiff in Colorado. “Being in solitary can cause you so much distress. Especially people with disabilities. And that’s not okay.”
At least half of ICE’s detention bed capacity is at facilities operated by for-profit prison companies including CoreCivic or GEO Group. Both companies have a long history of refusing to provide adequate medical care to prisoners in their facilities. “However, despite knowing the inherent risks of contracting with private prison corporations, ICE continues to entrust them with the care of an ever-growing number of detained individuals,” the lawsuit states.
“ICE cannot simply contract with third parties to operate its detention centers and then wash its hands of the deplorable, unlawful conditions in those detention centers,” said CREEC’s Tim Fox, co-executive director and a lead attorney on this case.
According to the lawsuit, some detained immigrants have been forced into segregation after expressing suicidal thoughts – a tactic that only exacerbates their symptoms as they remain in total isolation for days, weeks or even months.
Others suffer from extreme mental illness but are thrown into segregation to languish alone when they need treatment to address their mental health concerns. Some are even confined simply for “clowning around,” a 2018 Human Rights Watch reported.
One plaintiff is diagnosed with schizophrenia but was placed alone in a dorm for nearly nine months, 24 hours a day. Despite a history of suicidal ideations and thoughts of self-harm, she was isolated with no opportunity for interaction with others. When she expressed that she was actively suicidal, a guard simply told her, “Don’t say that,” and did nothing further.
Consequences of Inadequate Care
Another plaintiff, Marco Montoya Amaya has experienced severe memory loss and other cognitive symptoms after he did not receive treatment for a brain parasite. And Ruben Mencias Soto, who has extreme difficulty walking, had his wheelchair taken away for over a month, making it impossible for him to make the long walk to the cafeteria. He went without food on the several days officers refused to let other detained individuals bring his meals to his cell.
The plaintiffs in this case also include people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) whose conditions have deteriorated since being in detention.
In the four facilities inspected by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and described in their June report, investigators found that problems went beyond overly restrictive segregation and inadequate medical care. Nooses were found in cells, bathrooms were dilapidated, moldy and sometimes not working, security incidents went unreported, and there were significant food safety issues, including spoiled food, that put detainees at risk. OIG’s inspection included Adelanto, Aurora, and LaSalle— all facilities where our plaintiffs are currently detained.
A 2019 Disability Rights California (DRC) investigation found that immigration enforcement policies implemented in recent years created a huge spike in detained individuals with disabilities.
“Most notable is the January 2017 Presidential order that terminated the exercise of ‘prosecutorial discretion’ for people with disabilities and other special populations,” the report said. “There has also been a dramatic rise in the detention of asylum seekers, who often carry with them experiences of trauma and have significant mental health needs,”
DRC found that ICE’s Adelanto facility uses counter-therapeutic practices, underreports data on the number of suicide attempts, and fails to comply with anti-discrimination laws or ICE standards when dealing with people with disabilities.
One plaintiff, Luis Rodriguez Delgadillo, is currently being held at Adelanto suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But his diagnoses are not being treated properly. His mental health has severely worsened while in ICE custody—he does not receive therapy and his medications changed, causing his mental health to deteriorate without needed support. He has expressed suicidal thoughts and harmful ideation.
“It is time for ICE to do what it should have been doing for years – to oversee and monitor its immigration detention centers, and to take effective measures to stop long-standing patterns of unlawful and unconstitutional conditions of confinement that place detainees at significant risk of harm,” Fox said.
Press Release: Civil Rights Groups Charge that ICE Disregards Immigrants’ Medical, Mental Health Needs and Ignores Discrimination Against Immigrants with Disabilities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 19, 2019
Civil Rights Groups Charge that ICE Disregards Immigrants’ Medical, Mental Health Needs and Ignores Discrimination Against Immigrants with Disabilities
New Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit Highlights Abusive Isolation, Horrific Medical and Mental Health Care, and Denial of Accommodations to and Discrimination
Against Detained Immigrants with Disabilities
Los Angeles —A nationwide class action lawsuit was filed today against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and others acting in their official capacities. The lawsuit challenges the federal government’s failure to ensure detained immigrants receive appropriate medical and mental health care, its punitive use of segregation in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and its failure to ensure that detained immigrants with disabilities are provided accommodations and do not face discrimination as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The lawsuit was filed by Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in the U.S District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 15 individuals detained at eight different facilities in six states, representing a class of approximately 55,000 immigrants imprisoned by ICE on any given day, and two nonprofit organizations, Al Otro Lado and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ).
The lawsuit challenges ICE’s systemic failures to enforce constitutional and statutory requirements at the approximately 158 facilities across the country where people in immigrant detention are held, resulting in the delay and outright denial of medical care, the punitive use of solitary confinement, the failure to provide mental health care, and discrimination against people requiring disability accommodations.
“This administration’s horrific mistreatment of immigrants is not limited to individuals at the border,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “The fact that immigrant detention is supposed to be civil, and not punitive, is a distinction without a difference when it comes to how detained immigrants are treated. At least twenty-six people have died since Trump took office, and tens of thousands have suffered as a result of the federal government’s abject failure to provide basic medical care at the facilities where taxpayers are spending billions to detain immigrants. More will suffer, and more will die, without court intervention.”
Plaintiff Luis Manual Rodriguez Delgadillo is a 29-year-old man who lived in California almost all of his life before being detained at Adelanto in March 2019. Most of his family members are U.S. citizens, as are both of his two young children. His mother, Patricia Delgadillo, said “My son has serious mental health needs. He was stable before being detained, but now he is experiencing hallucinations and other symptoms because they have changed his medication, and he has missed two court dates as a result. Like any parents, my husband and I suffer with him, and we just want him to be safe.”
All of the named plaintiffs are individuals currently detained by ICE in repurposed prisons and jails. They have experienced abuse and mistreatment ranging from the denial of proper medical screening and care, to lengthy placement in segregation, to deprivation of medications necessary to manage mental heath disabilities, to discrimination on the basis of disability and the denial of necessities like hearing aids and mobility devices.
Over the course of Fiscal Year 2018, ICE detained approximately 396,448 people pending a hearing on their immigration claims. Many could be legally released on parole or with a bond, but ICE chooses to detain them instead, at an average cost of $208.00 per individual, per day. Instead, these individuals are packed into immigration prisons in which they are routinely denied healthcare and disability accommodations, are subjected to arbitrary and punitive isolation, and are often unable to use the telephone to call family and attorneys, access a library, or receive recreation. Thousands have suffered in detention, many of whom have abandoned viable immigration claims and accepted deportation out of a desperate desire to be released or to obtain necessary medical care.
“The atrocious conditions in immigrant detention are an open secret,” said Tim Fox, Co-Executive Director at CREEC. “Dozens of reports –some by the government itself – over decades substantiate the claims in this lawsuit. The Detainee Death Reports the government publishes when people in immigration detention die in ICE custody provide textbook examples of medical abuse and neglect, yet DHS and ICE have done nothing to address these failures. And the risk is growing exponentially as this Administration needlessly expands detention by thousands of beds each year.”
Other plaintiffs include Jose Segovia Benitez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who returned home from Iraq after injury from an explosive device and was subsequently diagnosed with depression, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD, and a heart condition. He has received insufficient cardiac care at Adelanto and been placed in solitary confinement, which experts liken to torture, for behavior that may be a manifestation of his mental health disability.
“Immigrants with disabilities are at heightened risk of discrimination in detention,” said Stuart Seaborn, Managing Director of Litigation for DRA. “Detained individuals who are Deaf or have mobility disabilities are regularly denied access to assistive devices, without which they may not be able to communicate, meet their needs, or participate in programming.”
Plaintiff Al Otro Lado is a non-profit organization that provides pro bono legal services to immigrants. “Our mission is to help immigrants fight their removal cases,” says Al Otro Lado’s Litigation Director, Erika Pinheiro. “But too often, we end up having to help them fight for their lives due to the terrible medical care they are receiving in detention. When our clients’ health is compromised, their cases suffer, due process violations are common, and they are at heightened risk of deportation.”
Plaintiff Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice is a non-profit organization that advocates for immigrants in California’s Inland Empire, a region in Southern California that is east of Los Angeles. “Seven people in detention have died at Adelanto in the last eight years, and we don’t want ICE to add to that number,” said Javier Hernández, Executive Director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “We have had to redirect our resources away from advocacy towards adding staff to help people who are detained deal with health emergencies and bond.”
Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but instead aim to reform the way our nation treats the human beings who have immigrated to the United States.
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. https://creeclaw.org/.
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting, housing, and juvenile justice. https://www.dralegal.org.
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, SPLC provides direct representation to immigrants in remote, rural detention centers in two of the states with the highest numbers of detained individuals, Louisiana and Georgia. https://www.splcenter.org/.
Al Otro Lado (AOL) is a bi-national, direct legal services organization serving indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. https://alotrolado.org/.
Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ) is dedicated to convening organizations to collectively advocate and work to improve the lives of immigrant communities while working towards a just solution to the immigration system. https://ic4ij.org/.
Orrick has 27 offices worldwide, and focuses on serving the Technology, Energy & Infrastructure and Finance sectors globally. Clients worldwide call on Orrick’s teams for forward-looking commercial advice on transactions, litigation and compliance matters. https://www.orrick.com/en/About-Us.
“I was so sad. So afraid I’d never see my son again. I had no idea that they [US Customs and Border Patrol] would separate us, especially in the case of my son who is deaf and who can’t communicate easily,” says an asylum-seeking mom from Guatemala who prefers to remain anonymous for safety reasons. She goes on to say that CREEC’s Liz Jordan “helped me communicate with my son, and closely followed what was happening to me. Without CREEC’s help I would not have been able to figure out what was happening with my son and I would not have been able to fight my case.”
Separated from his mother soon after crossing the border in April 2018, a 17-yr old deaf asylum seeker was transported alone hundreds of miles away to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Arizona – without interpretation services or accommodations of any kind. His only means of communication? Drawing pictures.
Meanwhile, the boy’s mother was sent to the ICE detention center in Aurora, Colorado where she asked for a video call with her son. Her requests were ignored. She says, “I felt so alone when I first got to Aurora. I didn’t know what I had to do. I met with a pro bono attorney and explained everything that had happened with me and my son and that he was deaf. They referred my case to CREEC. I remember my first visit from CREEC. I felt so much more supported. I felt myself come back to life a bit.”
“It was a long fight involving multiple requests for a video call, consistent with ICE’s legal obligations to provide effective communications in their detention centers. Working with the son’s lawyer in Arizona and the ACLU’s family separation litigation team we were finally able to reunite our client with her son so they can be together and safely continue their quest for asylum,” says Liz Jordan, Director of the Immigration Detention Accountability Project at CREEC.
You can read and hear more about how CREEC and others are fighting for the rights of immigrants with disabilities in detention by following this link to National Public Radio’s recent story, Homeland Security’s Civil Rights Unit Lacks Power To Protect Migrant Kids.
How Can You Help? As CREEC is a 501(c)(3), donor support is vital to our ability to provide assistance to people like the mother and son in this article. Consider a charitable gift this year to help CREEC continue to challenge discrimination. Your support matters!
CREEC is pleased to announce a new resource called Inmates with Disabilities: Know Your Rights. This resource provides an overview of the rights of disabled inmates and gives examples of potential violations. Please share it with anyone who may benefit from it. We greatly appreciate the work of our summer intern, Jordan Staley, on this project and wish him all the best as he begins his third year at Denver Law. A more detailed discussion of the rights of disabled inmates follows below.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) protect people, including inmates of jails and prisons, from disability discrimination. This means jails and prisons must not discriminate against inmates because of their disability and must give disabled inmates equal access to the programs, services, and benefits of the facility. So, for example, a jail cannot provide classes only in a building that is physically inaccessible to wheelchair users. Similarly, prisons cannot segregate blind inmates by automatically housing all of them in the medical unit. Individuals with a relationship or association with a disabled person are also protected by these federal laws. So, jails and prisons also cannot discriminate against family members and friends of disabled inmates or disabled family members and friends of nondisabled inmates.
Changes Needed Due to Disability
Sometimes disabled inmates need the facility to make a change to allow them to fully participate in its programs, services, or benefits. The ADA and Section 504 require prisons and jails to make such changes (referred to as accommodations or modifications) as long as they are reasonable. For example, an inmate with a mobility disability may need additional time to travel from their cell to the cafeteria. Or, an inmate with a life-threatening peanut allergy may need their food prepared in a peanut free area of the kitchen. In most cases, it is an inmate’s responsibility to request these reasonable changes and, unless it’s obvious, explain why the change is necessary due to their disability.
The ADA and Section 504 require correctional facilities to communicate as effectively with inmates with disabilities as with others. Prisons must provide auxiliary aids and/or services when necessary for effective communication. Auxiliary aids/services include sign language interpreters, videophones, Braille documents, audio documents, captioned videos and TV, and explanations of documents. Prisons must tailor an auxiliary aid/service to an inmate’s individual needs and give primary consideration to an inmate’s requested mode of communication. Providing an inmate handbook in only written English will not result in effective communication for a blind inmate or a deaf inmate whose primary language is ASL. Neither will providing a Braille document to someone who is blind but does not read Braille. It is similarly ineffective for a jail to provide a TTY to a deaf inmate whose primary language is ASL. A videophone will be required for effective communication. (Link to our prior videophone article)
Keep in mind that prisons are not required to provide accommodations/modifications or auxiliary aids/services that require a fundamental alteration or impose an undue burden on the facility. Prisons may also exclude a disabled inmate from a program or service if his participation would pose significant health and safety risks or a direct threat to others.
If you or someone you know is being discriminated against in jail or prison, contact CREEC at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.757.7901 for possible help.
 42 U.S.C. § 12131.
 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).
 Throughout the remainder of this article, the terms prison, jail, and correctional facility will be used interchangeably.
Recent CREECblog Posts
- Increasing Accessibility City by City – Curb Ramps
- CREEC Receives Two-Year Grant from the Ford Foundation
- National Association of the Deaf Announces Landmark Settlement with Harvard to Improve Online Accessibility
- What we’re thankful for this holiday season!
- Investigation of Communication Problems in Tennessee Prisons
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