U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using solitary confinement as a first resort for detaining certain groups of immigrants despite calls from the scientific and humanitarian communities against the practice, according to a report by The Intercept published Tuesday. In a study of records of over five years spanning the Obama and Trump administrations, the inhumane tactic has been used against those with disabilities, those engaging in hunger strikes, and LGBTQ+ detainees.
Solitary confinement — the practice of detaining someone alone with no other human interaction for as much as 23 hours per day — is described as “a serious step that requires careful consideration of alternatives,” by ICE directives, but Ellen Gallagher, a supervisor at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found that it was being routinely implemented for some detainees. This implementation, according to Gallagher who has become a whistleblower after trying to internally change the policy, often came without considering other possibilities for detention.
This new information comes from culling over 8,499 incident reports, half of which detailed solitary confinement stays of more than 15 days at a time. Mental health professionals advise that when implemented, the harmful tactic only be used for the shortest amount of time possible. Among the detainees were trans women, supposedly in an attempt to protect them from the general population. But solitary confinement can lead to thoughts of suicide and untold traumas on those detained.
Dulce Rivera, a trans woman identified in the report, was placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and given one hour to walk in a metal cage. A month into solitary, she was kept from walking in the yard and two days later attempted to hang herself. Though she has been released from the detention centers, she still suffers from the experience. ICE says Rivera requested to be put in an isolation cell. Rivera denies that she was ever given a choice.
A spokesperson from the agency said that solitary confinement usage “protects detainees, staff, contractors, and volunteers from harm.”