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Senators introduce legislation to combat use of solitary confinement on migrants

Woman held for over 2 years in solitary near San Diego border
Trump administration moves to detain migrant families longer
Posted at 5:23 PM, Apr 25, 2024

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Two senators have introduced legislation to combat the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities.

"The overuse of solitary confinement remains a stain on our nation,” said Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill. at the Senate Judiciary Committee last Tuesday.

Durbin and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) are proposing legislation that would combat the “rampant” and “unnecessary overuse” of solitary in ICE-operated and contracted facilities across the United States.

The move comes on the heels of a Harvard and Physicians for Human Rights report that found between 2018 and 2023; ICE placed individuals in solitary confinement more than 14,000 times.

Researchers found the average stay in solitary was 30 days, which is two weeks longer than what the UN considers torture.

In San Diego County, a Mexican woman was held in solitary for over two years. ICE records show the migrant’s stay at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near the border was the longest in the entire country. The Mexican woman asked to be put in isolation, detention records show.

“There were some cases actually that were so long that we couldn't include them in the data because they hadn't ended yet,” said Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Katie Peeler, co-author of the report.

In an interview from Boston, she said solitary is detrimental to a person’s health. She said it can cause anxiety, PTSD, depression and make it difficult to interact with others.

“People also will start to have delusions or hallucinations, kind of more psychotic type symptoms,” she said.

Government Accountability Office Gretta Goodwin said she found hundreds of instances where migrants asked to be put in protective housing out of fear.

"But what's important here, I think, is while someone might have asked for protective custody, I can't imagine that they asked to be put in the shoe,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"This is sick, this is unacceptable and it's un-American,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).

The committee also heard testimony from a Texas sheriff that solitary is needed for safety and used rarely.

Some senators were less focused on the topic of solitary confinement and more on securing the border.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.) said ICE uses solitary on 1% of detainees.

"There is no detention, effective detention when it comes to illegal immigrants coming to our border,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R. South Carolina)

He criticized the government’s alternative to the detention program that sees migrants released from custody with ankle bracelets, saying most don’t show up to immigration court dates.

“So, really, I think the problem America faces from detention is the lack of it.”

READ RELATED: Migrant held in solitary confinement for 759 days at Otay Mesa Detention Cente