Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to address the human and economic consequences of solitary confinement. Through our network of community support partners that serve individuals who have been released from immigration detention, LIRS has seen the swift and heavy toll that all forms of detention carry, especially solitary confinement. We are hopeful that this hearing will highlight the harmful and lasting impact that over-reliance on immigration detention has on newcomers.
Despite its well-documented harm, especially for those with pre-existing psychiatric disorders or survivors of torture, trafficking, and abuse, solitary confinement is still used in immigration detention facilities throughout the country. A March 2013 report published in the New York Times found that on any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities throughout the country. Nearly half of migrants placed in solitary confinement were isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm. Given the risks of solitary confinement, it should only be used in exceptional circumstances and under heavy oversight.
We have seen administrative attempts to address the use of solitary confinement in the past, such as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive with guidelines for its use. However, a broader look at the overall practice of detention in immigration cases is needed. Additionally, the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744), included many positive changes for migrants held in immigration detention including the operations of detention facilities and the use of alternatives to detention. Under this legislation, solitary confinement would be defined and limited to brief periods under the least restrictive means possible, excluding children and mentally ill individuals from the practice.
Placing refugees and migrants in solitary confinement violates American values of fairness and respect for human dignity. We urge Congress to stand alongside people of faith to ensure the fair treatment of all migrants within our immigration system. To read our statement on the hearing, click here. To stay informed on this and other events in Congress affecting migrants and refugees, sign up to receive our Stand for Welcome advocacy updates or take a moment to visit our Action Center.