Undocumented with Disabilities in America: Ensuring Service Providers Treat Immigrants and Minorities with Disabilities Equally

Guest Author: Jake Goodman

Every TASH intern is required to complete what is called an “External Intern Final Project” where we are supposed to conduct a fieldwork research project as a means of applying our learning in a real-world context. This is an opportunity to be creative and there have been wonderful examples of that in the past. Interns have done things like interview individuals with disabilities and their families, examine the accessibility of subway lines, neighborhood restaurants, movie theatres and other public sites. Others have done things like create training programs and interview law enforcement officials about their experiences and relationships with individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).

Jake Goodman poses for a photo with Representation Raskin
Jake Goodman poses for a photo with Representation Raskin

Let’s look at the current geopolitical climate in the United States, one common trend we notice everywhere is partisan divisiveness, a trend that is less common in other developed countries around the world, yet more common in developing nations. There is one area where one would think both parties and all three branches of government could come to some sort of agreement on, and that is the area of issues pertaining to human rights abuses within our own borders, specifically those related to disability rights. As an overall concept, guaranteeing equal political, economic, and social rights for individuals with disabilities in a country like the United States should seem easy. Well, it may be somewhat easier for individuals with disabilities who are natural born citizens and aren’t considered a racial and/or religious minority. But what about those individuals with disabilities who are not natural-born American citizens? Individuals with disabilities who are either documented or undocumented immigrants? Or even individuals with disabilities who are natural born citizens but are of minority backgrounds, what about them? How is it different for them? The process of ensuring that everyone with a disability in America gets proper services can often be an extremely difficult task for the government and non-profits to keep track of, especially when it comes to matters pertaining to immigrants and minorities with disabilities.

For my “External Intern Final Project,” I explored how the rights of minorities and immigrants with disabilities can be improved and what has already been accomplished by the federal, state, and local levels of government in the United States. I examined what non-profits such as TASH, along with others, are doing to already advance the rights of minorities and immigrants with disabilities in the U.S. from the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to the present date. I identified new solutions fostering inclusion amongst everybody with a disability with the rest of society, no matter what their demographic background may be. I interviewed roughly four or five primary in-person sources in order to gain a wide range of perspectives on the matter. The topic at hand in the interviews was about how undocumented immigrants, documented (legal) immigrants, and/or racial/religious minorities who are natural-born citizens with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities are unfortunately discriminated against when applying for jobs, seeking higher education, and seeking healthcare services.

Two of these primary source interviews come from non-profit organizations, and in this case, the non-profit organizations are TASH and the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD).  At both non-profits, I interviewed someone who handles issues related immigrants with disabilities, specifically undocumented immigrants with disabilities. I also asked questions regarding what is already being done to ensure undocumented immigrants with disabilities receive the services and accommodations they are entitled to while staying in the United States. At TASH, I interviewed their volunteer Dr. Chernet Weldeab and at USICD, I interviewed their executive director Isabel Hodge. At both non-profit’s I also asked more general questions relating to current policies affecting individuals who are of racial and/or religious minorities with disabilities but are natural-born American citizens. Regarding the undocumented immigrants with disabilities, my research focused more specifically on workforce protections and accessing proper healthcare policies affecting them, and how they can be changed. To gather more information on these policies I interviewed three individuals directly related to policymaking in these areas from the perspective of the federal government. Two of these individuals were legislative advisors to two different congressional legislators. One legislative advisor I interviewed named Devon Ombres works for Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), and the other one I interviewed named Josie Villanueva works for Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). I also interviewed Amy Gonzalez, the senior policy director at the United States Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), specifically on the matter pertaining to employment opportunities for immigrants and minorities with disabilities.