The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement is in the eye of the storm. A newly released and damning report has accused the agency of excessive use of solitary confinement at its detention facilities.
According to the report, the ICE used solitary confinement 14,000 times within a five-year period that ran from 2018 to 2023. One of the major highlights of the report was the solitary confinement of one immigrant for 759 days—more than two years.
The report has sparked outrage from human rights groups who have been campaigning against the practice even in regular prisons. The groups have expressed worry over the highhandedness of ICE agents. They also believe that insufficient oversight from the government has fuelled the malpractices.
The United Nations views solitary confinement as a form of torture if it lasts for more than 15 consecutive days. The ICE went way past this threshold in many cases. The report showed that solitary confinement lasted at the ICE detention centers for an average of a month. Close to half of the detentions exceeded 15 days.
The report gave a robust insight into the solitary confinement practices of the agency in its 71 pages. The report’s authors spread across professionals from Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, and Physicians for Human Rights.
The team bases its report on documents it obtained from 125 detention facilities of the agency. The courts ordered the release of the documents on the team’s request in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.
“The harms are just so well established – they are incontrovertible,” Sabrineh Ardalan, director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, told reporters. “That’s why the failure to make any significant change is shocking,” he concluded.
ICE rules place a 30-day limit on solitary confinement for every violation. However, the agency keeps immigrants for much longer in cases where their lives may be at risk. These cases are called administrative segregation.
The report also revealed that about 700 cases of solitary confinement lasted 90 days or more, while 42 cases lasted for more than a year. There were other cases the team found that were longer than 759 days.
Two other cases were at the Tacoma, Washington, Northwest ICE processing center. But the report didn’t deliberate on them because they are still in progress. The report showed that these two detentions had already lasted for 811 and 817 days as of September 13, 2023.
Activists have raised concerns over the damage to the mental health of solitary confinement detainees. So, the team watched out for the mental health reports of the detainees. But the ICE failed to include them.
Interestingly, the mental health records of the non-solitary confinement detainees were pretty instructive. 40% of the 8,800 cases that included mental health status showed mental challenges.
One former solitary detainee, Karim Golding, a Jamaican, gave a harrowing account of his time with the ICE. He spoke about spending almost 48 hours in the cell without a shower.
He also spoke about the lack of care for detainees. “I went to sleep one night and woke up suffocating in the cell,” he said. “I started to cry because there was no panic button inside these cells.”
Hopefully, the report will inspire reforms in solitary confinement practices and improve the professionalism of ICE officials. This is a perfect opportunity for President Biden to fulfill the promise he made during the 2019 campaign to end solitary confinement in federal prisons.
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