Urgent Call to DHS Chief to Cease Isolation of Immigrants in ICE Prisons

Urgent Call to DHS Chief to Cease Isolation of Immigrants in ICE Prisons

United States maintains the largest immigrant detention system in the world, a fact that has attracted both national and international attention. One specific aspect of this system, the solitary confinement of immigrants, has been a particularly contentious issue.

This article will delve into the reasons behind this practice, the implications it has for the immigrants involved, and the urgent calls for its cessation.

Solitary Confinement Issue

The practice of solitary confinement in immigrant detention centers has been widely criticized due to its adverse effects on the health of detainees. The solitary confinement of immigrants in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) prisons is a particularly hot topic. A report by the international organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has highlighted the dire consequences of this practice.

According to the PHR’s report, immigrants in solitary confinement suffer from a range of health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-harm, and even suicide risk. The report further points out that the detainees often stay in small cells with minimal contact with other inmates, sometimes for days or weeks on end.

American Immigrant Detention System

The PHR report also sheds light on the scale of the American immigrant detention system. The United States operates the largest immigrant detention system globally, with facilities housing thousands of individuals. These facilities range from those managed by private prison corporations, county jails, ICE, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which handles unaccompanied minors detained at the border.

Increase in the number of detainees in ICE prisons has been staggering. According to a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, the number of undocumented immigrants held in ICE prisons has surged by 45% in the past year. Simultaneously, the number of individuals enrolled in the Alternative to Detention (ATD) program has dropped by 39%.

Human Cost

The majority of foreign nationals held in ICE prisons are asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking or torture. Instead of finding refuge, these individuals endure prolonged periods of detention under inhumane conditions like solitary confinement, where they are isolated in small cells with minimal contact with others for days or weeks at a time.

PHR report further alleges that in many cases, the conditions would meet the definition of torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment under international human rights law.

ICE’s Response to the Allegations

ICE has disputed the PHR report’s findings. In an email to Univision News, ICE stated that it is committed to providing a safe and humane environment for those in its custody and takes all allegations of abuse or misconduct seriously.

Impact on Immigrants’ Health

According to the PHR report, prolonged confinement can cause lasting brain damage, hallucinations, confusion, sleep disturbances, and diminished cognitive function. These effects persist beyond the confinement period and often result in lasting psychological and physical disabilities, especially for individuals with pre-existing medical and mental health conditions or other vulnerabilities.

ICE’s Efforts to Limit Solitary Confinement

The report acknowledges that ICE is aware of these issues and has issued a directive in 2023 to limit the use of solitary confinement in its facilities, especially for vulnerable individuals.

In 2025, ICE issued a memo that further protected transgender individuals, emphasizing solitary confinement as a last resort. And in 2022, they reinforced reporting requirements for individuals with mental health issues in isolation, highlighting the need for strict supervision.

PHR’s Recommendations

The PHR report includes a series of recommendations for both the DHS Secretary and the ICE Director. These recommendations serve as a roadmap to completely eliminate the use of solitary confinement in immigrant detention.

ICE’s Response to the Report

In response to the PHR report’s allegations, ICE stated that over 15 internal and external entities supervise immigrant detention centers to ensure detainees reside in safe, humane environments with appropriate confinement conditions.

Conclusion

The issue of solitary confinement in ICE prisons is a complex one, with severe implications for the detainees involved. While ICE has undertaken some measures to address the issue, the PHR’s report and subsequent recommendations highlight the urgent need for further action.