United States Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has condemned the use of solitary confinement on immigrant detainees as “cruel and unnecessary,” and asserted that the agency in charge of immigration is likely violating its own detention directives.
In a detailed and strongly-worded letter addressed to the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Mark Morgan, Warren demanded answers to a list of questions about the use of segregation.
Warren was responding in large part to Solitary Voices, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and six media partners into ICE’s misuse and overuse of solitary confinement at its immigration facilities around the U.S.
Citing ICIJ’s analysis of more than 8,000 agency records describing placements of immigrant detainees in solitary confinement, Warren highlighted those placed in isolation due to physical disabilities, suicide attempts, hunger striking, and minor rule infractions. According to ICIJ’s reporting, many of these detainees are most at risk of suffering the well-documented harms of solitary confinement.
Warren also pointed to specific cases ICIJ and its partners had revealed, including one detainee who was isolated for having a prosthetic leg and another for the unauthorized possession of a green pepper.
Taken together with recent government watchdog reports that criticized ICE for inadequate documentation justifying uses of disciplinary isolation, Warren said that ICIJ’s findings “raise serious concerns” about ICE’s decision-making process around solitary confinement.
Citing ICE’s own detention directive, which calls solitary confinement a “serious step that requires the careful consideration of alternatives,” Warren questioned whether the agency is operating within the bounds of its own rules.
“The volume and severity with which ICE appears to be violating its own rules is extremely disturbing,” Warren wrote, “especially given how seriously it is compromising the health and safety of the detainees in its care.”
The letter comes on the heels of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) demanding congressional hearings into the findings of Solitary Voices. Blumenthal called for 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 to solitary confinement. “People were being brutalized,” Gallagher told ICIJ.
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.
The letter Warren sent Friday concluded with a demand for ICE to answer a series of questions about its use of solitary confinement, including a set of questions probing the agency for numbers of detainees who have died after being placed in isolation.
Warren gave the agency a July 5 deadline to provide answers.