In the first 15 months of the Trump administration, U.S. immigration authorities locked thousands of detainees in solitary confinement, some for months at a time, says a new report from the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, The Intercept reports. That was an increase of 15.2 percent from the final 15 months of the Obama administration, accelerating a practice that the United Nations has warned can amount to torture. The report analyzed more than 6,000 solitary confinement incident reports, covering more than two years, that were filed to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by detention centers around the U.S. In roughly 40 percent of those reports, obtained through a public records request, across both presidential administrations, the detainee placed in isolation had a mental illness diagnosis. The number of placements in solitary confinement jumped by nearly 400 from 2016 to 2017.
“Viewed alongside official watchdog reports and insider accounts,” the report says, “these records depict an immigration detention system in urgent need of more oversight.” The report builds on “Solitary Voices,” an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Intercept, into the overuse of solitary confinement at ICE detention facilities. The investigation found that ICE has isolated thousands of the most vulnerable immigrant detainees, including people with severe mental illness, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities, for extended periods. As of August 3, ICE was detaining more than 55,000 people — a record high — even though Congress has approved funding for only 42,000 detention beds. ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said the agency places people in solitary confinement at rates lower than the prison population. ICE says that about 1.1 percent of the detained immigrant population is in isolation at any time, compared to a national average for prisoners of 4.5 percent. Immigration detention, however, is civil, unlike jails and prisons that house individuals convicted of criminal acts.