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Disability Rights Groups Fighting for Health Care Access for Kids With Disabilities at Border Detentions
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Disability Rights Groups Fighting for Health Care Access for Kids With Disabilities at Border Detentions

Disability rights groups have accelerated their involvement in immigration detention in recent years. In its role as a Protection and Advocacy (P&A) group, Disability Rights California has the right to demand access to state and private facilities if it has concerns about the wellbeing of people with disabilities housed there. So does Disability Rights Texas, which inspected shelters in 2018 to determine if children with disabilities were being housed there and whether they were receiving adequate care. Similarly, Disability Rights Florida evaluated and reported on the Homestead temporary shelter, a tent camp housing 1,350 children.

While P&A representatives cannot demand entry to federally owned and operated facilities, their scope is quite broad — and urgent. ACLU attorney Claudia Center noted that the physical and emotional trauma people are fleeing and enduring on their way to the US and in detention makes huge numbers of immigration detainees members of the disability community, at least temporarily. Physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder are common in immigration detention facilities and can be covered under disability law.

“People who are in detention, who are seeking asylum or refugee status or have experienced border crossings, are fleeing violence and threat. Almost by definition, these are people with disabilities, because of everything they have gone through. And any person with disabilities in immigration detention, whether they have PTSD or use a wheelchair for mobility — and whether in facilities operated by ICE, Border Patrol, or a local jail under contract — are covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, meaning they’re entitled to accommodations.

This includes physically accessible facilities, interpreters for deaf detainees, and materials accessible to blind and low-vision people. It also includes rights like being accompanied to immigration hearings and interviews, receiving legal representation when they cannot represent themselves or taking breaks during testimony. Many of these accommodations are not provided, making them clear violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973," John Williams, a member of Center For Independent Living, said.

John explained that this also means the right to a least-restrictive environment, something every person with a disability in the United States is entitled to; people should live in their communities, and if there is a compelling reason this is not an option, in settings that are as open and free as possible. Yet, he says, that’s not what Disability Rights California has seen in the detention facilities it reviewed, like the Adelanto Detention Facility in San Bernardino, California.

Instead, detainees with disabilities are sometimes moved to administrative or disciplinary segregation, both of which involve being confined to cells for hours a day: 23 hours or more in disciplinary and 20-plus hours in administrative segregation.

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