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ICE Has Put Thousands of Migrants in Solitary

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Dulce Rivera, a 36-year-old transgender woman from Honduras and a longtime U.S. resident who was detailed by U.S. and Customs Enforcement in 2017, she was allowed outside her cell one hour a day, to pace alone on a patch of concrete encased in metal fencing.

They called it “the yard,” but it was really a metal cage. The other 23 hours she was locked alone in a cell with no one to talk to and nothing to distract her from her increasingly dark thoughts, The Intercept reports. 

Rivera, in the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, was moved into solitary in May 2018 for harassing other detainees. Her cell had bare walls, adorned only with a table, sink, and toilet. “You never know what day it is, what time it is,” Rivera said. “Sometimes you never see the sun.”

Nearly four weeks after she was placed in isolation, guards told her that she wouldn’t be allowed to go to the yard. Two days later, she fashioned a noose from a torn blanket and hanged herself from a ceiling vent.

A passing guard cut her down before she suffocated. Immigration officials led Rivera to a different solitary confinement cell, this one with huge block letters across the door reading “SUICIDE SAFE.”

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture has said that solitary confinement should be banned except in “very exceptional circumstances” and that isolation for more than 15 days constitutes “inhuman and degrading treatment.” People with mental illnesses should never be put in isolation, the rapporteur said.

An investigation by The Intercept and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that ICE uses isolation as a go-to tool, rather than a last resort, to manage and punish even the most vulnerable detainees for weeks and months at a time. Reporters found records of more than 8,400 placements of ICE detainees in solitary confinement.

The agency has used isolation cells to punish immigrants for offenses as minor as consensual kissing, and to segregate hunger strikers, LGBTQ detainees, and people with disabilities.

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