Advocating for detained migrants with disabilities

Tuesday November 6, 2018 was the monthly program coordinators conference call for FFI’s national network of local programs. During this month’s call, one of the primary themes was advocating for detained migrants with disabilities. Relevant information from that discussion is presented below along with key portions of the ICE detention standards.ICE is required to make “reasonable accommodation” for individuals they detain who have disabilities. The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center has a page on the Rights of Detained Immigrants with Disabilities. In terms of what constitutes a disability, many of us are familiar with mobility and vision issues. However, disability covers a far wider spectrum of conditions that can include certain kinds of mental health conditions, cognitive impairment, or things like diabetes that we might generally consider “medical” issues. These conditions can also constitute disabilities for which ICE is required to make “reasonable accommodation”.

What about glasses? At our recent chapter meeting, the issue came up about a detained migrant that requires glasses to see and read. Their glasses are no longer functioning properly, and the facility has been slow in replacing the glasses. The standards below give some guidance on ICE’s responsibility to provide detained individuals with vision issues. If there is any question regarding disability needs of the person you are visiting, consult with the materials cited below. If a person cannot see or read without glasses, then based on the definitions cited below, it constitutes a disability. ICE is required to make a “reasonable accommodation” which in this case would involve eye glasses. A letter to ICE or facility staff that cites the relevant portions of the standards may be in order.

ICE Standards Relevant to Disability: The ICE Performance Based National Detention Standards of 2011 (revised 2016) is the most recent set of rules for immigration detention. Chapter 4 part 8 deals with disability (PBNDS 2016: 344). Section II indicates that ICE facilities must comply with §504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The standard states “[t]he facility will provide reasonable accommodations to provide detainees with disabilities an equal opportunity to access, participate in, or benefit from the facility’s programs, services, and activities.” Part V.A.1 defines disability as “a. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities; or b. a record of such a physical or mental impairments” (PBNDS 2016: 346). Major life activities include but are not limited to: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. It may also entail body functions like: immune, endocrine, and neurological systems; cell growth; digestion, respiration, and circulation; and the operations of the bowel, bladder, and brain.  Part V.A.5 covers Auxiliary Aids or Services (PBNDS 2016: 347) and defines them as “services or devices that allow for effective communication by affording individuals with impaired vision, hearing, speaking, sensory, and manual skills an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, programs and activities.”


ICE. “Performance Based National Detention Standards 2011.” Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Enforcement and Removal Office, 2016.
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