Another United States Senator is demanding answers about the use of solitary confinement inside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey and a 2020 presidential hopeful, asked Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hold an oversight hearing into “egregious and appalling abuses” in ICE facilities as described in Solitary Voices, a recent investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
In his letter, Booker cites an ICIJ analysis that found ICE had isolated thousands of immigrants described by the agency as mentally ill in isolation for weeks and months at a time — even though this is a population especially vulnerable to breakdown if locked up alone in a small cell.
He also pointed to specific cases ICIJ’s project highlighted, including a detainee placed in solitary for two months for having a prosthetic leg, and another man the agency isolated because he had improperly kept a green pepper in his sock.
Booker wrote that the scientific research on the use of solitary confinement is clear, and that it has “serious, adverse and dangerous health consequences.”
Pointing to ICE’s own detention rules, which identify solitary confinement a “serious step that requires the careful consideration of alternatives,” Booker accused the agency of appearing to repeatedly flout its own directives.
“It appears ICE has been consistently violating its own policy,” Booker wrote.
The letter follows calls for action from two other influential Senate Democrats: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts.
In May, Blumenthal demanded congressional hearings that would include testimony from whistleblower Ellen Gallagher, a supervisor at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an umbrella agency that includes ICE.
Gallagher told ICIJ that she had reviewed internal reports for years that described abusive practices, and had tried and failed to get her agency to make meaningful reforms. “People were being brutalized,” Gallagher told ICIJ.
Last week, Warren sent a detailed and scathing letter to ICE demanding answers about its use of solitary confinement on immigrant detainees. Warren gave the agency a July 5 deadline to answer her questions. Warren is also a presidential contender.
ICIJ’s investigation spanned four countries and seven newsrooms including Grupo SIN in the Dominican Republic, Plaza Pública in Guatemala; Mexicanos contra la Corrupción in Mexico; and NBC News, The Intercept and Univision in the U.S.
In his letter, Booker also called for the Senate hearing to include an examination of “grossly unsanitary conditions at detention facilities” — as outlined in a recent Homeland Security inspector general report — and scrutiny of immigration raids that President Trump has alluded to in recent days.
“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,” Booker wrote, “and we cannot be silent.”