A national class-action lawsuit, alleging broad mistreatment of disabled immigrant detainees, was filed August 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a number of government officials.
“These human beings — many of whom have fled torture — are packed into immigration prisons in which they are denied healthcare, refused disability accommodations, and subjected to arbitrary and punitive isolation,” states the lawsuit, Fraihat v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The lead plaintiff is Faour Abdallah Fraihat, 57, who came to the United States from Jordan. He lived in the United States most of his life and ran a construction business in California before he was detained in 2016. According to the lawsuit, he has been diagnosed with vision loss and mental health disabilities and often needs a wheelchair for mobility because of pain in his knee and back. The lawsuit says he was not given a wheelchair for more than a year and consequently was confined to his cell.
Another plaintiff is Ruben Dario Mencias Soto, 36. He needs a wheelchair and crutches to get around the detention facility but has repeatedly had those things taken away from him by staff, thus confining him to his cell, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs have a wide range of disabilities, including blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Providing legal representation for the plaintiffs are Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal center promoting equal rights for people with disabilities; Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center; the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The suit charges that punishing disabled detainees with confinement and deprivation of healthcare violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and not providing them with disability accommodations violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. “Immigrants with disabilities are at heightened risk of discrimination in detention,” said Stuart Seaborn, the managing director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates, in a release following the lawsuit. “Detained individuals who are deaf or have mobility disabilities are regularly denied access to assistive devices, without which they may not be able to communicate, meet their needs, or participate in programming.”
The suit doesn’t seek monetary damages for the plaintiffs. It does ask that all disabled detainees receive the healthcare, mental health treatments and disability accommodations they need, that they not be segregated and confined, and that the defendants develop a plan to ensure disabled detainees are treated fairly and in accordance with federal civil rights laws.