DHS and CBP: Duties to People with Disabilities

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its components, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), are prohibited by § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act from discriminating against people with disabilities (PWD).1  Importantly, this means that PWD arriving at airports and interacting with CBP officers and those in detention facilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations/modifications if necessary to avoid disability discrimination.2  If your family or client requires it due to a disability, request a reasonable accommodation,” and state the disability and the reason it makes the requested accommodation necessary.  Examples of accommodations include:

  • Access to food, water, and/or medication.
  • Effective communication, for example:
    • sign language interpreters for people who are deaf. Crucially, effective communication for people not fluent in American Sign Language will require a “Certified Deaf Interpreter.”  Be sure to request a “Deaf/Hearing Team.”
    • reading/translating forms for people who are blind.
  • Accommodations for physical disabilities, for example,
    • Accessible restrooms.
    • Wheelchairs.
    • Protection from extreme temperatures.
    • If handcuffs must be used, may need to be looser (circulation) or in front (so a deaf detainee can communicate).
  • Other accommodations we haven’t thought of: contact us

This protection covers only people with disabilities, defined (in part) as people who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.3  The following conditions would likely be considered disabilities under the law:  blindness; deafness; paralysis or significant motor impairment; diabetes; cognitive disability; serious mental illness.  The following may require a more rigorous showing that they substantially limit a major life activity: digestive, bowel, or bladder dysfunction; respiratory or heart disease; food allergy. 4

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center has significant experience with litigation under the Rehabilitation Act and is ready to consult with other lawyers or assist with pleadings to enforce these rights.  info@creeclaw.org; 303-551-5156.


  1. 29 U.S.C. § 794; 6 C.F.R. § 15.1 et seq.; DHS Directive No. 065-01; DHS Instruction No: 065-01-001; DHS, Guide 065-01-001-01 (“Guide”), at 23-24.
  2. Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287, 301 (1985); Directive 065-01, ¶ V(A)(2); Guide at 17-18; Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder, 2013 WL 3674492, at *4 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 23, 2013) (holding detainees entitled to reasonable accommodations under § 504).
  3. 29 U.S.C. § 705(9)(B), incorporating 42 U.S.C. § 12102.
  4. This list is by way of example only. Any condition that substantially limits a major life activity is included.
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