November 01, 2019

Warren Demands Answers About Ongoing Misuse of Solitary Confinement at ICE Detention Facilities

Warren Demands Answers about Ongoing Misuse of Solitary Confinement at ICE Detention Facilities

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) requesting information regarding CRCL's oversight of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities and ICE's reported misuse of solitary confinement at those facilities. The senator's letter cites new reports indicating that ICE's misuse of solitary confinement continued at least through May 2018, and that DHS and ICE leadership have ignored CRCL's recommendations.

The DHS Inspector General (IG) has, in recent years, found that ICE "may have misused segregation" in its detention facilities, was employing "practices (that) violated standards and infringed on detainee rights," and was failing to follow important recordkeeping protocols. Additionally, several publications released a trove of documents showing disturbing patterns in how ICE employed solitary confinement "as the first resort...(a)nd sometimes ... the only approach" to isolate and manage detainees.

In June 2019, Senator Warren wrote to ICE to express her concern and request additional information about ICE's use of solitary confinement in recent years. ICE has yet to provide a response to her letter.

In Senator Warren's new letter to CRCL, the DHS office responsible for "integrat(ing) civil rights and civil liberties into ... the Department's activities," she cited a new set of reports indicating that ICE has continued to overuse and misuse solitary confinement to house detainees who have mental or physical disabilities or who might otherwise be especially vulnerable. According to these reports, at least three detainees "with mental illness who have been put in solitary" have died by suicide in the last three years, and over 60% of solitary confinement cases between January 2016 and May 2018 lasted over 15 days. United Nations experts have called for the prohibition of "indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days" due to the potential for lasting mental and emotional damage and severe risk of physical pain and suffering to detainees.

"It is crucial that the federal government deploy every available tool to stop the abuse of solitary confinement and prevent another avoidable death," Senator Warren wrote in her letter.

Senator Warren also expressed concern with recent reports that "DHS leaders no longer heed recommendations" from CRCL, despite its mandate to "investigate civil rights and civil liberties complaints ... regarding DHS policies, programs and activities." The senator also noted that while CRCL "is the only federal office outside of ICE that has regular access to the data on use of solitary," ICE regulations prohibit CRCL from using such data in its investigations, further limiting CRCL's oversight authority.

To address her concerns, Senator Warren asked that CRCL provide the data on solitary confinement that she requested in her initial letter to ICE, and asked the office a series of questions about its oversight of ICE detention facilities. She requested a response by November 14, 2019.

Senator Warren's letter is part of her ongoing efforts to protect the health and safety of migrants and asylum seekers through Senate oversight:

  • Following a DHS IG report regarding unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers, Senator Warren opened investigations into two of the country's largest private prison contractors, along with the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities. In April 2019, she released findings that revealed that none of the companies had taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS IG and demonstrated an ongoing dispute between the auditor and the IG about the quality of the auditor's inspections. 
  • In June 2019, she questioned ICE on the misuse of solitary confinement, and requested an investigation into reports of solitary confinement being used to coerce participation in "voluntary" work programs at immigration detention facilities.
  • Earlier this month, Senator Warren and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) wrote to DHS, ICE, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) citing reports of abuse and neglect of transgender migrants and asylum seekers and urging the Trump Administration to reverse policies - including misuse of solitary confinement - that are harming these vulnerable populations.
  • In May 2019, the senator opened an investigation into the accreditation process for private detention operators following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities nationwide.
  • She joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) and seven other senators calling for the federal government to investigate federal contractors after disturbing reports of hungry, sick, and unbathed children being held in federal contractor facilities near the border were made public. She also wrote to CBP requesting answers on steps being taken to protect children and called for the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children to be shut down. 
  • In September 2019, Senator Warren expressed serious concerns over DHS's announcement that migrant families currently detained at CBP holding centers would not be vaccinated for the flu ahead of this year's flu season.