“Immigrants’ rights advocates have raised concerns regarding the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention,” HIRCP said. “In 2019, a DHS whistleblower released shocking information that detailed the nefarious use of solitary confinement in detention facilities. This practice was especially common among vulnerable populations in DHS’s custody, including LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.”
The whistleblower, DHS policy adviser Ellen Gallagher, told NBC News at the time that “solitary confinement was being used as the first resort, not the last resort.”
A DHS inspector general report the following year said that ICE has kept immigrants in solitary confinement for periods as long as 300 days. Detention guidelines claim that immigrants in solitary still get access to recreational activities. But that’s a lie. “Our examination of segregation records showed the facility inaccurately reported to ICE that detainees were receiving recreation time when, in fact, they were not,” inspectors wrote.
HIRCP said that it submitted the requests in 2017 to seek more information on the treatment of vulnerable immigrants in custody. “In 2018, ICE responded to the request, indicating that the records had been located, but they had yet to be released at the time of the complaint, over three years later.”
NBC News’ report had detailed how one transgender detainee had been in solitary confinement for nearly a month when she attempted to hang herself. “You never know what day it is, what time it is,” Dulce Rivera told NBC News. “Sometimes you never see the sun.” But after her return from the hospital, officials again threw her in solitary.
“There is clear evidence that long-term solitary confinement has devastating effects, particularly on trauma survivors,” HIRCP Director Sabrineh Ardalan said. “It is essential that we obtain these records in order to ensure that DHS is not continuing past harmful practices.”
Advocates and whistleblowers late last year made a direct plea to DHS Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas, urging him to end ICE’s use of solitary confinement. That call notes that DHS was made aware of solitary confinement abuses as far back as 2014. “While the OIG report revealed many of ICE’s shortcomings, there is no way of knowing how many and to what extent immigrants were subjected to solitary confinement over the past seven years in ICE detention,” the Government Accountability Project said.
“What is needed at this moment is accountability for seven years of failed oversight that allowed torture to occur across the ICE detention system in literally unverifiable numbers,” senior counsel Dana Gold said last year. “That accountability must start with immediately ending the practice of segregation in ICE detention until compliance with standards to protect immigrant detainees can be guaranteed.”