September 26, 2022

Government Accountability Project Client, Ellen Gallagher, Participates in Congressional Briefing on Inadequate Mental Health Care and Improper Use of Solitary Confinement in ICE Detention

On September 22, 2022, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) held a briefing, sponsored by Congressman Joaquin Castro, for congressional staff, advocates, and press about ICE’s excessive use of solitary confinement on mentally ill detainees. Participating in the briefing were advocates who were directly impacted by the systemic use of solitary confinement in immigrant detention; a neurologist with expertise in detention health; and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) whistleblower and Government Accountability Project client, Ellen Gallagher.

In 2014, as an attorney working for DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), Ms. Gallagher began raising concerns internally about ICE’s systemic use of solitary confinement on mentally ill and medically vulnerable immigrants in civil detention to CRCL, DHS Office of Inspector General, and the Office of Special Counsel. In 2019, after no action was taken to address the system-wide, ongoing abuses, she made her whistleblowing public with the press. Increasing congressional oversight and reform efforts, including the introduction of legislation that would end the use of solitary confinement in immigrant detention, helped instigate an audit by DHS OIG in 2021 that validated Ms. Gallagher’s disclosures, finding failures to collect, retain, and report data about the use of solitary confinement as well as failures to comply with policies that require considering less restrictive alternatives.

During the briefing, Ms. Gallagher said:

“My complaints included dozens of weekly segregation reports, as well as detailed medical and facility records. In studying the reports, I was shocked that individuals in civil detention – which is inherently non-punitive – could be ‘sentenced’ to solitary confinement. Over and over, I found information confirming that seriously mentally ill and other medically vulnerable detainees were being placed into solitary confinement for reasons directly related to – or caused by – their illness; they were deprived proper medical care, even when suicidal; and missed immigration court dates that otherwise might have enabled them to seek bond or legal protection.  Some segregation reports featured detainees placed on ‘suicide watch’ in complete isolation while stripped bare and forced to wear a ‘suicide smock.’ Not surprisingly, some detainees feared disclosing suicidal ideation lest they be treated in this manner.”

Dana Gold, Senior Counsel for Government Accountability Project and lead attorney for Ms. Gallagher stated:

“The briefing featured wrenching, personal accounts of the experiences of immigrants subjected to solitary confinement; Ms. Gallagher’s statement about ICE’s widespread use of segregation in violation of detention standards highlighted that these stories were both far from isolated and ongoing. We hope that Congress will, in hearing from victims who put a human face on the harms Ms. Gallagher has been blowing the whistle on for more than eight years, pass the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act and put an end to the use of solitary confinement in ICE detention.”

Watch the full briefing here.

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 202.926.3304

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