Disability Rights Advocates, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, and the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in August 2019 on behalf of two immigrant rights organizations and 15 migrants detained in 158 facilities across the country. The complaint alleges that these parties faced discrimination on the basis of disability and were denied access to timely medical or mental health care or were placed in “near constant isolation” unlawfully.
The 15 named plaintiffs represented a class of all people in immigration detention and those expected to be detained in the future, who had been or would be subject to conditions that the lawsuit argued were unconstitutional and in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act) which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by federal agencies and contractors.
This complaint is a useful tool for advocates seeking to understand class actions (i.e., how to define a class of people who are all threatened by the same unlawful practices, particularly related to confinement) and to ask a court to “certify” a “class.” For instance, all people with disabilities facing discrimination from a litany of practices that failed to comply with accessibility laws was one of the original subclasses in this complex litigation. This large class is represented by 13 of the 15 named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The argument for “class” status for the plaintiffs in this case begins on page 182 of the complaint (page 192 by the PDF’s pagination). In addition, the subclass’s argument regarding the denial of disability accommodations under the Rehab Act is valuable for advocates of PLHIV as HIV is a recognized disability under the law. This argument appears on page 157 of the complaint (page 167 by the PDF’s pagination).