Members Call for End to Raids and for Humane Treatment of Refugees
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) were joined by thirty-one Members of Congress in sending a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch reiterating concerns about due process and the safety of recently deported Central American families.
The letter points out that many of the families may require special accommodation, given that a high percentage of Central American families suffer from depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder, conditions which qualify as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A 1973 law, the Rehabilitation Act, requires that federal programs make reasonable accommodations to accommodate disabled individuals. Such accommodations were not made in the recent raids.
“While I was encouraged by the recent announcement of expanded access to asylum in Central America and look forward to details of the plan, it doesn’t justify the administration preventing refugees from having effective access to due process here in the United States,” said Rep. Torres. “What happened to the idea that we would focus our immigration enforcement efforts on felons and security threats, not vulnerable families? These raids are contrary to our values as a country, and, as our letter points out, they may very well be contrary to our laws.”
“Many women and children fled countries with extreme violence, leaving everything behind, because they feared for their lives and safety. These experiences are traumatic and are only exacerbated by immigration raids,” said Rep. DeLauro. “The Department of Homeland Security should take into consideration the anxiety and trauma of many of the women and children undergoing asylum and removal proceedings. These individuals may need additional guidance to understand and maneuver through complex immigration proceedings, and we should provide them with the resources they require. As Americans, we have a rich tradition and history of extending a hand to others and being a kind and generous nation. We can and we must do better.”
“It’s unthinkable to turn our backs on families who are fleeing extreme violence and abuse,” said Rep. Polis. “We must do everything we can to protect mothers and kids from being sent back to nations where they are likely to be persecuted. Thousands of lives are on the line, and it’s imperative that we restore humanity to these proceedings.”
This letter comes shortly after the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement defending these raids, crediting them with a recent drop in Southwest border crossings and touting the recent announcement of an expanded refugee program in Central America. Text of the letter can be found below and a pdf can be found here.
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
The Honorable Loretta Lynch
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch,
We write to express our concerns regarding the recent raids carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeting Central American families and children. As you are aware, the Washington Post reported on December 23, 2015 that DHS was planning immigration raids against women and children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. ICE began conducting those raids on Saturday, January 2, 2016. While immigration raids and deportation proceedings against this vulnerable population have already begun, it is not too late for them to end.
The mothers and children who have been taken from their homes represent an extremely vulnerable population. These are families that fled to the United States seeking refuge from forced gang recruitment, domestic violence, and extortion in some of the most dangerous countries in the world. Many have traveled hundreds of miles through dangerous conditions to bring children to safety. We must take every precaution to ensure that we are not sending them back to persecution, exploitation, or abuse.
Yet, we have received no assurances that ICE is carrying out these raids in a manner that is consistent with our values or our laws. The raids are happening so quickly as to preclude ICE and other authorities from taking appropriate steps to ensure that families obtain effective access to counsel and full due process protections prior to deportation. For example, we have received information that pro bono attorneys report that 5 of the 6 families apprehended over the weekend of January 2-3 were granted emergency stays of removal based on ineffective assistance of counsel.
Additionally, it has come to our attention that a substantial proportion of the Central American parents and children who have sought refuge in the U.S. are suffering from severe symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety, and depression. Consequently, we are concerned that many of the Central American refugee families targeted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raids are disabled, as that term is defined in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Under the American Disabilities Act, PTSD and other trauma-related conditions are considered disabilities. As such, we are concerned that raids and removal proceedings, both of which are federal programs, are not taking the disabilities of these women and children into account. It is deeply troubling to hear that DHS officials and government contractors do not have thoughtful discharge plans or a way to screen cases of Central American refugee women and children to ensure that those suffering from serious illnesses such as PTSD have the guidance they need to understand and maneuver through their complicated immigration proceedings.
We support the requests of disability, veteran, immigration, faith-based, labor, and other advocates that your departments:
- immediately suspend raids against Central American women and children who may be disabled;
- review the cases of women and children targeted for DHS raids and confirm that their removal orders were not obtained in violation of the Rehabilitation Act (The Rehabilitation Act applies to removal proceedings and requires reasonable modifications for disabled respondents);
- screen cases of Central American refugees to ensure that those who are disabled have access to counsel as they are unable to represent themselves in asylum processing and removal proceedings; and
- provide notice in writing to each individual or family found to have a disability so that they may surrender for removal prior to the government conducting a raid.
The continued arrival of Central American mothers and children at our Southwest border is a humanitarian issue, and we expect the United States government to respond in a humanitarian manner.
Rep. Norma J. Torres
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro
Rep. Jared Polis
Rep. Marcy Kaptur
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa
Rep. James P. McGovern
Rep. Judy Chu
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
Rep. José Serrano
Rep. Raúl Grijalva
Rep. Ted Lieu
Rep. Gwen Moore
Rep. Gene Green
Rep. Ruben Gallego
Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky
Rep. Betty McCollum
Rep. Michael M. Honda
Rep. Chis Van Hollen
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter
Rep. Mark Pocan
Rep. Tony Cárdenas
Rep. Robert C. Scott
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
Rep. Grace Meng
Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grishham
Rep. Linda T. Sanchez
Rep. Beto O’Rourke
Rep. Barbara Lee
Rep. Niki Tsongas
Rep. Mark Takano
Rep. Paul Tonko
Rep. Juan Vargas