ResourcesOpen Letter

Letter: 475 Medical Professionals Demand an End to Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention 

Dear President Biden, Secretary Mayorkas, and Acting Director Lechleitner: 

The undersigned 475 healthcare professionals – including, but not limited to, physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers – write today in unison. In alignment with our professional and ethical obligations as healthcare professionals, we urge the U.S. government to immediately cease the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. 

As members of the U.S. health care community, we are dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of human life and overall well-being. Our mandate extends to understanding the broader context of a person’s life circumstances and its potential impact on health, including the conditions in Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and solitary confinement, the detrimental effects of which are already extensively documented.

The harm inflicted by solitary confinement includes significant, and sometimes permanent,  negative health outcomes, such as paranoia, experiencing hallucinations, confusion, heart palpitations, interrupted and disrupted sleep patterns, and a decline in cognitive abilities. Solitary confinement is also known to trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, self-harm, and, at worst, raise the risk of suicide.  

A new report “Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention (Endless Nightmare) details the horrors of solitary confinement in ICE detention centers. The report, a collaboration between Physicians for Human Rights, researchers at Harvard Medical School, and faculty and students at Harvard Law School, was the latest of numerous reports of ICE’s harmful and arbitrary use of solitary confinement, as well as the agency’s violations of international conventions and domestic and international legal standards.

ICE has isolated people for months and even years; in the last five years alone, ICE has placed people in solitary confinement over 14,000 times. It has used solitary confinement as punishment for minor infractions, such as using profanity or not getting out of bunk during count. ICE has isolated people with serious vulnerabilities, including people with mental health and physical conditions. ICE placed nearly 700 people in solitary confinement for more than 90 days and more than 40 people for more than one year. ICE has done all of this despite its own protocol instructing that disciplinary solitary confinement should last no longer than one month except in “extraordinary circumstances,” and its 2013 “Segregation Directive,” which stipulates that “placement in administrative segregation [solitary confinement] due to a special vulnerability should be used only as a last resort and when no other viable housing options exist.”  

Despite overwhelming evidence of the detrimental impacts solitary confinement has on physical and mental health, ICE has persistently neglected to address this issue adequately. This barbaric practice continues to expose thousands of people to the severe risk of enduring mental and physical health complications. In fact, since we released our report in February, a man who was still in solitary confinement at the time of our analysis, has died. Mr. Charles Daniel was in detention for almost four years, and spent virtually that entire time in solitary confinement, despite the fact that he was known to have serious mental health issues. ICE has repeatedly failed to respond effectively to the mountain of evidence that keeping people in solitary confinement is both unnecessary and dangerous, and at times life-threatening.  

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. 

We echo the sentiments of the nearly 200 diverse organizations that wrote to you with an urgent call to action: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must end the practice of solitary confinement (“segregation”) in all immigration detention centers. 

See full letter and list of signatories

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