Trump Administration Increases Solitary Confinement for ICE Detainees

US Immigration officials have increased the use of solitary confinement for detained migrants, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) records obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a watchdog group based in Washington, DC.

ICE records obtained by POGO found a 15.2 percent increase in the number of detained migrants placed in solitary confinement during the first 15 months of the Trump administration, as compared to the rate at the end of the Obama administration.

POGO’s report found that from January 2016 to May 2018, there were more than 6,559 instances where detained migrants were placed in solitary confinement in ICE detention centers. About 4,007 detained immigrants were held in solitary confinement for 15 days, or about 61 percent of cases involving the practice. The data also reveals 2,579 detained immigrants with mental illness were held in solitary confinement (39 percent) and 989 detained immigrants with mental illnesses were held in solitary confinement for over 15 days (15 percent).

The report compared how often the Obama and Trump administrations used solitary confinement. During the last full year of the Obama administration, 1,030 reports showed immigrants that were detained in solitary confinement who were also struggling with mental illnesses. In 2017 during the Trump administration, POGO’s report found 1,160 reports that indicated there were immigrant detainees in solitary confinement with a mental illness.

"Under President Trump, ICE is confining far more detainees in solitary — of whom a strikingly high proportion have mental illness — than at the end of the Obama administration," said Nick Schwellenbach, Director of Investigations at POGO, according to NBC News.

Many Democratic presidential candidates have spoken out against the use of solitary confinement in ICE detention centers. In June, Senator Cory Booker wrote a letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hold an oversight hearing about ICE detention centers that use the practice, calling it “egregious and appalling abuses.".

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that ICE has become nothing more than a lethal weapon in the Trump Administration’s war on immigrants and communities of color, and we cannot be silent,” Booker previously wrote in his letter obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also sent a letter that same month to ICE inquiring about the mistreatment of immigrants in ICE detention centers. In the letter obtained by NBC News, the Democratic presidential 2020 candidate also wrote about the use of solitary confinement.

"The volume and severity with which ICE appears to be violating its own rules is extremely disturbing, especially given how seriously it is compromising the health and safety of the detainees in its care,” Warren stated.

In August, nearly 700 undocumented immigrants were detained in several agricultural processing plants in Mississippi. ICE said in a previous statement that 680 undocumented immigrants were detained at poultry and other food-processing plants in the state. The agency said at the time that it was “determining on a case-by-case basis based on the totality of the circumstances which individuals will be detained and which persons may be released from custody at present.”

The “record setting” raid left hundreds of families reeling and forced communities to find ways to care for the children whose parents were detained by the agency.

The following day, 300 people were released, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi said in a statement. The office also said 30 undocumented immigrants were released on humanitarian grounds at the site of where they were detained, while another 270 people were set to be released after being processed by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at the National Guard Armory in Pearl, Mississippi.

The department also noted that if agents encountered two undocumented immigrant parents with young children at home, then one of the parents would be released on humanitarian grounds and returned to where they were detained. The same procedure was followed with any undocumented immigrant who is a single parent with young children at home. “Based on these procedures, it is believed that all children were with at least one of their parents as of last night,” the statement read.

Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting director, previously defended the raids to The Washington Post, saying it “was a textbook operation, carried out in a safe manner and done securely.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.