On January 4, 2016 VACIR joined organizations from across the country asking Secretary of Homeland Security Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to cease the unjust raids and deportation of our community members.
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
The Honorable Loretta Lynch
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Re: Notification of disabilities of persons targeted in Central American refugee raids and request for immediate modifications
Dear Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Lynch:
We write to notify you personally that a substantial proportion of the Central American refugees likely targeted in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raids that began yesterday, and a substantial proportion of those who are currently in removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), are disabled, as that term is defined in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This letter is meant to notify you of their disabilities and to request reasonable modifications to the asylum process and removal proceedings and to the current enforcement operations.
Notice of Disability Under Rehabilitation Act
Based on available information, a substantial portion of the Central American refugees who were placed in removal proceedings on or after January 1, 2014, including those who are now being targeted in ICE raids, were exposed to profound and substantial trauma in their countries of origin. Since 2014, thousands of people from Central American families, including single mothers and toddlers, have come to the United States seeking refuge from gang- and gender-based violence in their countries of origin. Families have traveled hundreds of miles through dangerous conditions to bring children to safety. A very high proportion of the Central American mothers and children now targeted for ICE raids have survived sexual assault or other forms of extreme violence, have mourned the loss of close family members to particularized violence, and today suffer the inevitable consequences of exposure to this trauma. In many cases, the harmful health consequences of this prior trauma were made even worse by the conditions of confinement DHS imposed on these families, both at the U.S. border and in family detention facilities. A June 30, 2015 complaint submitted to DHS by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, American Immigration Council, and Women’s Refugee Commission (“AILA Complaint”) documents the significant detrimental impact of family detention on mothers and children who are asylum seekers and victims of trauma.
A substantial proportion of the Central American parents and children who have sought refuge in the U.S. are suffering from severe symptoms of—and in many cases meet diagnostic criteria for—posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and depression. Symptoms from these and other trauma-related conditions can substantially impair and limit major life activities, including negatively impacting and interfering with the ability of these families to meaningfully participate in asylum processing and immigration removal proceedings, federal programs subject to the Rehabilitation Act. As a result, a substantial number of the Central American refugees now targeted for ICE raids are disabled, as that term is defined in the Rehabilitation Act. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2. The violent nature in which the current DHS raids are being conducted poses substantial risk for further harm and exacerbation of traumatic symptoms.
Providing Reasonable Accommodations to Central American Refugee Families
Media reports indicate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun to conduct a series of raids to deport Central American families. These refugee families have fled particularized violence and persecution in their countries of origin and are seeking asylum and other humanitarian relief. Central American refugee families are currently subject to armed ICE officers forcing or coercing their way into homes, in some instances pulling adults and children out of bed before dawn. The violent manner in which ICE officers are conducting raids threatens to cause further harm to these disabled refugees. Mothers and children who witnessed and survived arrest, torture, and murder of family members, and attempts on their own lives, will be grossly re-traumatized by ICE raids. These refugees’ ability to advocate for themselves in removal proceedings even after entry of a final order by, for example, moving to rescind in absentia orders or to reopen final orders of removal will be further impaired by ICE’s actions, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. These individuals now require reasonable modifications to DHS conduct of enforcement operations and EOIR adjudication of removal proceedings.
In addition to providing notice of disability, we request immediate modification of EOIR and DHS policies and DHS’s conduct of the raids now underway to ensure that these disabled refugees have meaningful access to their processing as asylum seekers and to their removal proceedings. DHS, EOIR, and government contractors have routinely provided families with inadequate orientation to the U.S. immigration system, a system that is supposed to guarantee the opportunity to seek asylum and other humanitarian relief. These disabled parents and children should be provided with a fair and humane process. Consequently, we request reasonable accommodations to ensure that end, including:
(1) review of the underlying removal orders on which DHS raids are purportedly based, in order to confirm that the orders were not obtained in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, see Franco-Gonzales v. Holder, 767 F.Supp.2d 1034 (C.D.Cal. 2010) (Rehabilitation Act applies to removal proceedings and requires reasonable modifications for disabled respondents);
(2) immediate suspension of all raids against Central American families pending conclusion of this review;
(3) provision of counsel to disabled refugees unable to represent themselves in asylum processing and removal proceedings;
(4) service of a written request for an individual or family to surrender for removal prior to the government conducting a raid; and
(5) any further reasonable modifications to the asylum processing, removal proceedings, and enforcement operations required for these disabled refugee families, in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act.
Without these reasonable modifications, parents and children are unable to meaningfully participate in refugee processing or removal proceedings, including an inability to pursue motions to rescind in absentia orders or to reopen final orders following arrest in a raid. PTSD and other trauma-induced mental impairments inhibit survivors’ ability to form a coherent narrative of traumatic memories, to concentrate, and to communicate. Conditions of stress exacerbate the effects of trauma on a survivor’s ability to tell her family’s story. Consequently, without the requested reasonable modifications, Central American refugee families are unable to meaningfully navigate complex immigration proceedings or coherently articulate past persecution and ongoing fear as required for asylum claims. The re-traumatizing experience of arrest by armed, uniformed ICE agents who enter private homes, often without a warrant or consent, means that the current raids further prevent these disabled refugees from meaningfully participating in removal proceedings by exacerbating these trauma-induced impairments.
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits government agencies from discriminating against individuals on account of qualifying disabilities. 29 U.S.C. § 794; 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1); 28 C.F.R. § 35.130. DHS regulations require that DHS agencies provide reasonable modification to disabled individuals, pursuant to the Act. 6 C.F.R. §§ 15.1-15.70. Failure to implement reasonable modifications accommodating the disabilities of these Central American refugees constitutes a violation of civil rights statutes protecting persons with disabilities, for which you, your agencies, and your subordinate officials may be liable. 29 U.S.C. § 794; 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1); 28 C.F.R. § 35.130; 6 C.F.R. §§ 15.1-15.70.
You already know or should know of the disabilities of the families now targeted for raids, based on the medical screenings that were performed or should have been performed upon DHS’s initial arrest or detention of these families and children. These screenings, along with removal proceedings, should also make you aware of the barriers to meaningful participation in removal proceedings and programs for asylum and humanitarian relief that these disabilities have caused. Accordingly, we do not believe that either this notification of disability or the specific request for reasonable modifications is required by law. Nevertheless, so as to bring this matter directly and unambiguously to your attention, we provide this formal notice and request.
American Immigration Lawyers Association, CT Chapter
Apostle Immigrant Services
The Arc of the United States
CASA de Maryland
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
Center for Popular Democracy
Church World Service
Coalition of Residents and Immigrants in Solidarity
CONECT – Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut
Connecticut Legal Services, Inc.
Community Activism Law Alliance
CT Students for a Dream
Disability Rights DC at University Legal Services
El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
Faith In New Jersey
Georgia Detention Watch
Greater Hartford Legal Aid
Hesperian Health Guides
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
The Immigration & Refugee Task Force of the Unitarian Society of New Haven
Institute for Social and Cultural Practice and Research Inc.
IICONN (The International Institute of Connecticut)
Junta for Progressive Action
KIND, Inc. (Kids in Need of Defense)
Latino Advocacy Foundation of Fairfield County
League of United Latin American Citizens
LGBTQ+ Youth Kickback
Make the Road CT
Make the Road NJ
Make the Road PA
Manos Unidas de New Britain
MEChA de Yale
Migrant Families Popular Assembly
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
National Immigration Project/NLG
Neighbors Link Stamford
New Haven Legal Assistance Association
New Haven Peoples Center
New Haven Rising
New Jersey Youth For Immigrant Liberation
New Sanctuary Coalition of NY
Peoples Health Movement – US
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Show Up for Racial Justice
St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Parish, New Haven, CT
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC)
Unidad Latina en Acción
United Action CT
United We Dream
Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights
We Belong Together
Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Org.