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475 Medical Professionals to Biden Administration: End Solitary Confinement in ICE Detention Now

475 doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals have signed a letter demanding that the U.S. government end the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities due to severe health harms caused by the practice, said Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today.  

The effort represents the largest mobilization to date of medical professionals calling on the U.S. government to end solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities. Their letter outlines the “significant, and sometimes permanent, negative health outcomes” resulting from solitary confinement.  

The clinicians’ letter follows the February 2024 publication of “Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention, a report by PHR and experts at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Law School, which detailed the harms caused by solitary confinement in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. Analyzing internal government records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the report exposed how ICE has used solitary confinement more than 14,000 times from 2018-2023.

The signers write:  

“It has now been over three months since the release of ‘Endless Nightmare,’ and despite repeated, loud calls to end solitary confinement over the last decade, nothing appears to have changed. Solitary confinement continues to be used in ICE detention, inflicting serious and sometimes irreparable harm, including death, on people within our borders and in your custody.” 

Since the report’s publication, a man who was in solitary confinement for nearly four years, Charles Daniel died in an ICE immigration facility in Washington state.  Daniel was subjected to years-long abuse even though officials knew he faced serious mental health conditions.  

Despite numerous oversight reports, investigations carried out by nongovernmental organizations and journalists, and congressional hearings, ICE has repeatedly failed to respond effectively to evidence that keeping people in solitary confinement is both unnecessary and dangerous, and at times life-threatening.  

“Our letter shows that medical professionals across the country will not stand for the U.S. government subjecting immigrants to extremely punitive and dangerous conditions. In line with their ethical and professional obligations, health care professionals are calling out the severe physical and psychological impacts of solitary confinement and demanding that ICE end this heinous practice,” said letter signer Katherine Peeler, MD, coauthor of the “Endless Nightmare” report, PHR medical expert, and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. 

PHR’s investigation showed how ICE uses solitary confinement arbitrarily and as punishment, with FOIA records showing that immigrants were placed in solitary for infractions such as “using profanity” or a “consensual kiss.” ICE’s solitary confinement also disproportionately harms people with vulnerabilities, particularly transgender people and those with mental health and medical conditions. 

Read the full letter here.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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