Photo: Immigrant detention centers (Jazmine Ulloa)
Undocumented immigrants in detention are often submitted to punishment and solitary confinement, according to a new report from two human rights organizations.
Researchers with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) studied prison conditions for the undocumented in 13 detention centers and county jails under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The United States is estimated to have 250 facilities for locking up undocumented immigrants.
The report, “Invisible in Isolation: The Use of Segregation and Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention,” is the first comprehensive study of the suffering inflicted on the undocumented.
“The point of immigration detention isn’t to punish people,” the PHR’s Mike Corradini, co-author of the report, said. “But we found instances of guards throwing people in solitary for minor infractions, or because they are mentally ill, or for helping other detainees file complaints about conditions.”
“What’s even more disturbing is what we don’t know - how many immigrants are kept in solitary confinement, how long they’re held, and who they are,” he said.
Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the NIJC, said that the investigation delves deeply into the problems of the undocumented caught in the detention system.
“Immigrants who are not dangerous and should not be detained at all are being put in lockdown for 23 hours a day and become invisible as they face egregious human rights violations,” she said.
The organizations demand that ICE make the jails it contracts responsible for their actions and that it put an end to these practices.
Undocumented migrants represent the fast-growing segment of those behind bars in the United States, according to the report.
Though the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country has decreased, the number of those detained and deported has reached record numbers, she said.
ICE “now detains approximately 34,000 immigrants every night and more than 400,000 individuals each year. Since 2005, the immigration detention population has increased by nearly 85 percent,” the study says.
Locked up together in detention centers contracted by ICE are people seeking political asylum, legal permanent residents, those with mental problems, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, elderly immigrants and survivors of human trafficking.
The report’s authors recommend that ICE stop using solitary confinement in detention centers, that it place vulnerable individuals in alternative programs and that instead of jails they choose establishments that put a minimum of restrictions on the undocumented.
“If ICE feels it cannot keep immigration detainees safe without resorting to solitary confinement, then it needs to release those individuals and expand alternatives to detention programs,” NIJC acting director of policy and report co-author Alexis Perlmutter said.