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The federal agents burst into homes in the wee hours of the morning, rounding up undocumented immigrants for deportation. The Obama administration has been carrying out such raids for years, over the protests of advocates for immigrants.

Now, those advocates are claiming that the raids violate federal disability law because many of the immigrants targeted for deportation suffer from mental illness.

“A substantial proportion of the Central American parents and children who have sought refuge in the US are suffering from severe symptoms of — and in many cases meet diagnostic criteria for — post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and depression,” according to a letter signed by more than 150 unions, civil rights groups, and immigrant advocacy organization.


The letter, sent Monday to the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, adds that “the violent nature in which the current DHS raids are being conducted poses substantial risk for further harm and exacerbation of traumatic symptoms.”

The protest letter specifically refers to raids over the past weekend that led to the arrests of 121 illegal immigrants from Central America, many of them mothers and children who had settled in North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia.


“Given the sensitive nature of taking into custody and removing families with children, a number of precautions were taken as part of this weekend’s operations,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday. He said the agency sent “female agents and medical personnel” to conduct many of the raids and “exercised prosecutorial discretion in a number of cases for health or other personal reasons.”

But the advocates say those steps weren’t enough. They note that many of the Central American immigrants fled gang violence and other brutalities in their home communities and suffer lasting effects from that trauma.

“This population shouldn’t be thrown under the bus in the name of acting tough,” said Dr. Allen Keller, who runs a program for survivors of torture and teaches at New York University School of Medicine. “They came here seeking safety.”

The administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigration, which has been going on for years, has spread terror among immigrant communities, said Conchita Cruz, a third-year law student who works at the Yale Law School’s immigrant rights clinic and helped organize the protest letter. Often, she said, the raids can trigger breakdowns in mental health.

The organizations behind the letter called for an end to the raids until the government can review its policies to make sure it’s protecting the rights of people with disabilities. Federal regulations require that the Department of Homeland Security provide reasonable accommodation to disabled individuals. The advocates say that should include submitting a request in writing for an illegal immigrant to surrender before conducting a potentially traumatic raid.

“There’s not just a deep impact on those who are victims of rape and violence, but also members of the community at large,” Cruz said.