DHS Is Locking Immigrants in Solitary Confinement

In 2012, I visited the federal supermax prison ADX Florence in Colorado and spoke with men living in solitary confinement. I listened closely to their stories of anguish, but I could not understand how they survived it. They told me of the horror of being trapped in a small room, without access to fresh air or sunlight, for at least 22 hours a day — alone, afraid, and not knowing when it would end. I learned that people in solitary confinement talk to the walls, to themselves, to no one — sometimes they stop talking altogether.

Those are the types of horrors we now know that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is inflicting on immigrants, thanks to the courage of whistleblower Ellen Gallagher. This week, multiple news outlets reported government documents detailing 8,488 cases of solitary confinement. In half the cases, solitary lasted longer than 15 days — the point at which some of its psychological harms may become irreversible and it can amount to torture, as well as a violation of international standards outlined in the UN’s Nelson Mandela Rules.

The stories become even more harrowing when we learn why ICE allegedly imposed solitary. NBC news reported reasons including: wearing a hand cast, sharing a consensual kiss, or needing a wheelchair. ICE reportedly put LGBTQ individuals and people with mental illness in solitary as “protective custody,” citing their own safety.

The reports are replete with allegations that, if true, suggest that ICE repeatedly violated its own 2014 directive on solitary confinement.

At the time, the ACLU welcomed that directive as a much-needed step forward, as it required that solitary confinement occur “only when necessary.” Except in disciplinary cases, the directive requires that solitary be imposed “for the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions practicable.” Individuals may not be placed in solitary based solely on their physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity (among other bases). And solitary can only be imposed as a form of discipline after a panel determines the detainee “committed serious misconduct” and “when alternative dispositions would inadequately regulate detainee behavior.” Instead of following its directive, however, ICE “uses isolation as a go-to tool, rather than a last resort,” The Intercept concluded.

If  ICE has repeatedly flouted its own rules on solitary, it should come as no surprise. ICE and its peer agency, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have egregious records of allowing officials to commit abuses and endanger lives, often with impunity.

This week 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vazquez died in CBP custody in Texas one day after being diagnosed with influenza. He reportedly had traveled there to reunite with family and support his siblings, including his brother with special needs. Only three days prior to his death, the ACLU Border Rights Center and ACLU of Texas wrote a complaint to the DHS Inspector General describing shocking conditions in CBP detention: Children and their parents forced to sleep outdoors through extreme heat and rain, in puddles of water, given only paper-thin Mylar sheets to shield them from the elements; Border Patrol agents ignoring or denying requests for medical care, including for infants and kids.

And yet the immigration detention machine churns on. This week ICE detention numbers spiked at 52,398 people—an apparent all-time high, and far above the level of 45,000 that Congress authorized earlier this year.

The Trump administration has asked Congress for billions more in enforcement funds for CBP and ICE. At a hearing this week, Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan warned that without more funds, it would be difficult for DHS to prevent “the children being put at risk.” He also asked for new legal authorities to detain families for longer.

Providing an abusive agency more money and authority so that it will stop committing abuses makes no sense. It’s like donating to a corrupt politician, in the hope that it will stop her from yielding to the temptation to be corrupt.

Immigration detention is expensive, inhumane and unnecessary. Instead of being hostage to the Trump administration’s ever-increasing demands, Congress should press the administration to reduce detention and revive alternatives such as the Family Case Management Program, in partnership with community-based organizations, for individuals who need case management support.

Congress should also pass the Dignity For Detained Immigrants Act, a landmark detention reform bill. One key provision: It requires the DHS Office of Inspector General to carry out unannounced inspections of every DHS detention site, and forces DHS to promptly investigate detainee deaths.

Policymakers should be knocking on the doors of every detention site in the nation. We know horrific things have gone on there. Unless they are exposed, and ICE and its contractors held accountable, it’s all too likely the abuses will continue.

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Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

"Solitary confinement is the least of my worries": Alphonse Capone circa 1940.

Police blue line

Good illegal immigrants jumping the wall is against the law and so are sanctioned cities we need to take care of American citizens first and homeless vets

Anonymous

Do you know anything about these illegal aliens? Are they going to harm guards or other people? Are murders, rapists, sexual abuser and mental health issues? Really what do you know about these people? Yes those children die but don’t blame the border patrol or DHS department put the blame on their families and parents for bringing them USA also the drug cartels and human smugglers that are to be responsible. Those children were sick before they were caught They didn’t have proper care while with the drug cartels and human smugglers. Also the Democratic and Republican Congress and senate are the blame with all the Presidents. They refused to to their jobs on immigration and pass strict immigration laws. Also make E VERIFY MANDATORY IN EVERY STATE THIS WILL STOP THE FLOW OF ILLEGAL ALIENS. NO MORE FEDERAL MONEY GOES TO STATE THAT HELP ILLEGAL ALIENS IF THEY WANT TO HAVE THEM IN THEIR STATE LET THEM PAY FOR THEIR BILLS.

Anonymous

I have to ask if any of the border patrol people are doctors? Are they first responders? Do they have any medical licenses to check out illegal aliens medical/mental health illness? It is not the responsibility of the border patrol personnel to be blame for the death of any illegal aliens and their children. They are bringing flu,mumps and chicken pox to the border and other illness. The government is being sued by families and with the help of ACLU. So the good old American taxpayers are being responsible for the money. THIS HAS TO STOP.

Anonymous

This writer wants invaders to flood my Home Depot and turn it gay. These criminals are intentionally not vaccinating their children, forcing us to decide between giving our children autism or aids. Its all a plan to elect gay Pete to take our guns and wives away. Trump 2024

Anonymous

If these people would apply for immigration properly (as my grandparents did) and be lawfully admitted instead of sneaking in against the law they would not be in any danger of being detained at all. They can apply for entry in their home countries instead of traveling to Mexico and then using all sorts of sob stories to get in. While I am opposed to most of Trump's policies I support what he is doing to have these people admitted properly and legally (as my grandparents were required to do). Millions of immigrants entered legally for many years. It is only recently that a new wave of people have violated the laws to come here.

Anonymous

Excuse me but this is not our concern. They need to stay home & apply Legally. I don’t see your department so concerned on actual. Citizens that are homeless or. Vets that have fought for our freedom. All of a sudden you are outraged. You need to care about CITIZENS not ILLEGALS

Anonymous

All illegal aliens children should be locked up and deported. There were three illegal aliens ms 13 members who killed a young girl

Anonymous

Guess you should have published this article so in 2012 so they could have gone after Obama..but i am sure they will blane Trump

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

All we are saying is "give Don a chance".

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