Immigrants with Disabilities Face Barriers in Immigration Court

WASHINGTON – During Disability Pride Month, Human Rights First today released “‘You Suffer a Lot:’ Immigrants with Disabilities Face Barriers in Immigration Court, a report that documents the challenges people seeking asylum and other immigrants with disabilities face while navigating immigration court proceedings. The report includes recommendations that federal agencies should adopt to protect the rights of immigrants with disabilities.

“United States government agencies are violating the rights of immigrants with disabilities in contravention of federal disability law and due process protections,” said Ruby Ritchin, Legal Fellow for Refugee Representation and Protection author of the report. “Many people seeking asylum and other immigrants with disabilities, including people who are d/Deaf, blind, and have physical, mental, cognitive, or other disabilities, do not receive the accommodations they need in immigration court. The government must issue a clear disability access policy and provide people with disabilities a meaningful opportunity to present their immigration case.”

Many people with disabilities are forced to present their cases while jailed in immigration detention, often without the benefit of counsel. Those who are jailed experience medical and mental health care neglect, isolation, discriminatory use of solitary confinement, denials of accommodations, and other abuses which can cause or exacerbate disabilities.

The report’s findings include:

  • There are no publicly available Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) policy documents, directives, training materials, instructions for requesting disability accommodations, or other documents on disability access in immigration court proceedings.
  • EOIR and immigration judges have failed to provide accommodations for immigrants with disabilities in immigration court. For instance, they have denied communication accommodations, ignored concerns regarding deficient interpretation for d/Deaf and hard of hearing people, failed to provide written EOIR materials in an accessible format for a blind person seeking asylum, and failed to provide accommodations for people with mental disabilities.
  • Asylum seekers and other immigrants have faced bias, stigma, discrimination, and a fundamental lack of understanding of disability from immigration judges, including finding a person with brain cancer which affected her cognition not credible because she could not recall specific dates and times, and a denial of communication accommodations for a man who became deaf later in life because, in his prior hearing, he had “been able to speak.”
  • Asylum seekers and other immigrants in immigration detention have experienced additional trauma, isolation, worsening of their disabilities, mental and medical health neglect, solitary confinement, and challenges communicating with attorneys while in detention, preventing them from preparing and participating in their cases.

The EOIR of the Department of Justice should consult with disability and immigration experts and stakeholders to, among other measures:

  • Develop and publish a disability policy, including a simplified process to request a reasonable accommodation that does not involve filing a formal motion;
  • Designate national and regional EOIR staff to serve as disability coordinators;
  • Develop and issue updated disability nondiscrimination regulations recognizing EOIR’s affirmative obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and
  • Institute regular trainings for immigration judges on disability access, obligations under federal disability law, and specific disability categories.

Published on July 19, 2023


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