Rights of Detained Immigrants with Disabilities

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its components, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and their contractors are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities.1  Importantly, this means that individuals arriving at airports and borders and individuals detained in federal, state, and private detention facilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations/modifications if necessary to avoid disability discrimination.2  If you, your family member, or your 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:

  • Effective communication:
    • 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 “CDI” or a “Deaf/Hearing Team.”3
    • Videophones or captioned telephones permitting deaf people to communicate with family, advocates, and lawyers.  
    • Reading/translating forms for people who are blind.
  • Accommodations for physical disabilities:
    • Accessible restrooms and showers.
    • Wheelchairs, accessible beds, and other amenities.
    • Protection from extreme temperatures.
    • If handcuffs must be used, may need to be looser (circulation) or in front (so a deaf person can communicate).
  • Access to appropriate medications and treatment.
  • Other accommodations not listed: contact us with questions

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.4  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. 5

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center has significant experience with litigation on behalf of individuals with disabilities and is ready to consult with other lawyers and advocates or assist with pleadings to enforce these rights:

CREEC is also investigating systemic discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  If you or your client has been or is being denied reasonable accommodations or effective communication in the detention or immigration process, please let us know.

This page is also available as a pdf.

  1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132.; 6 C.F.R. pt 15.; 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 that detained individuals are entitled to reasonable accommodations under § 504).
  3. The Registry of Interpreters for the  Deaf has a directory of sign language interpreters. For a CDI, ✓ the □ for “CDI.”
  4. 29 U.S.C. § 705(9)(B), incorporating 42 U.S.C. § 12102.
  5. This list is by way of example only. Any condition that substantially limits a major life activity is included.