November 18, 2019


Sens. Durbin, Booker, and Harris Introduce Legislation Addressing ICE’s Abuse of Solitary Confinement on Vulnerable Migrants

Concerns Raised by Government Accountability Project Whistleblower Client Ellen Gallagher Prompt Congressional Action

WASHINGTON – Last Thursday, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced new legislation to curtail ICE’s widespread misuse of segregation on migrant detainees. Their joint press statement implicitly credits Government Accountability Project client Ellen Gallagher, who has been raising the alarm about ICE’s systemic use of solitary confinement on mentally ill and medically vulnerable detainees since 2014. 

The senators’ press release announcing the legislation cites reports by Project on Government Oversight and NBC News, as well as an Op-Ed written by Ms. Gallagher in The Washington Post  about the systemic and rampant use of solitary confinement on civil detainees, all noting the cruelty of the practice that research shows causes severe trauma. Gallagher was an attorney with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties (CRCL) when she began raising concerns after reviewing hundreds of segregation reports about ICE’s use of segregation, prolonged in many instances over multiple days and months, across dozens of facilities, in direct violation of federal regulations and statutory mandates. Solitary confinement is considered a form of torture by the United Nations, which urges its use only in the most exceptional circumstances and for the shortest time possible. 

In May 2019, after years of raising concerns with CRCL, the DHS Office of Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel, and with members of Congress, Gallagher finally decided to go on the record with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, in conjunction with The Intercept, NBC News, and Univision. Their reporting prompted outcry and demands for accountability from several members of Congress, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA-09). 

Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project’s Senior Counsel and attorney for Gallagher stated: 

“DHS’s failure to stop ICE’s knowingly cruel and abusive practice of routinely using solitary confinement on civil detainees has demanded Congressional intervention. The bill introduced by Senators Durbin, Booker, and Harris is an important step in vindicating the unceasing efforts of whistleblower Ellen Gallagher to expose and stop these abusive, unnecessary, and inhumane practices. We applaud her commitment and courage which catalyzed this legislation, and urge all members of Congress support the Restricting Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention Act of 2019.”

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 202-457-0034 ext. 156

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, the Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, the Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C