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Harvard Legal Clinic Files Lawsuit to Obtain Federal Immigration Detention Records

— January 23, 2022

Harvard says that, while it submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information on the use of solitary confinement on vulnerable inmates four years ago, the federal government has yet to respond.

A Harvard legal clinic has filed a lawsuit against federal immigration authorities, claiming that the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency have refused to release data about the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities.

According to The Associated Press, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program said that it submitted records requests to the agencies more than four years but has yet to receive any response.

In its complaint, Harvard said that it has raised concerns about how the prolonged use of solitary confinement may affect vulnerable detainees, including LGBTQ persons and those with psychological and physical disabilities.

“There is clear evidence that longterm solitary confinement has devastating effects, particularly on trauma survivors,” said clinic director Sabrineh Ardalan. “It is essential that we obtain these records in order to ensure that DHS is not continuing past harmful practices.”

The lawsuit observes that restrictive housing or segregation can have profoundly negative impacts upon people fleeing abusive or unsafe circumstances.

Image via Pexels/Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0)

“The experience of solitary confinement can be acutely traumatizing for many, particularly those who have a history of “torture and abuse, as is often the case with many immigration and national security detainees,”” the lawsuit states. “Prolonged isolation can often lead to mental health issues or severely exacerbate pre-existing mental illness.”

The Associated Press notes that the Cambridge, MA, clinic says is submitted three Freedom of Information Act requests in 2017, which specifically requested information on the use of solitary confinement on “immigrants with disabilities, mental health concerns, and other vulnerabilities.”

While Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told Harvard that it had located the relevant records in 2018, it never released them.

ICE guidelines, says The Associated Press, allow immigration detainees to placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons as well as non-disciplinary, non-putative, and disciplinary reasons.

An ICE spokesperson for the agency’s New England region told The A.P. that, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not comment on pending litigation, it maintains that the use of restrictive housing or segregation is “exceedingly rare, but at times necessary” when a detainee “becomes confrontational, destructive, or unsafe.”

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program’s complaint includes dozens of pages of screenshots and scans, which show messages sent to and received from the Department of Homeland Security and I.C.E.

The lawsuit has asked the court to order the federal government to release its records and to order DHS and ICE to reimburse its legal costs and attorneys’ fees.


Harvard immigration clinic sues for records on ICE detention


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