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Civil Rights

Why Are Illegal Immigrants Begging to Be Put in Solitary Confinement?

— March 15, 2017

Less than 100 days into the president’s first term, the Trump administration has been making big moves. In March, the commander-in-chief announced his plans to recruit thousands of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Under the pretense of securing the nation’s borders, Trump has also begun campaigning to expand the number of facilities used to detain immigrants. Some of the jails are operated by the federal government, while others are owned by for-profit prison companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group. A report by The Verge shows a significant problem plaguing due-for-deportation immigrants held across the United States – the forced and voluntary use of solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement has long been a controversial practice in detainment centers. All the way back in 2013, Ian Urbina and Catherine Rentz of The New York Times published a piece detailing how common forced isolation had become. Every day four years ago, an average of 300 immigrants were placed in solitary confinement. Many were punished for fighting, breaking rules, or talking back to guards. Sentences could last for weeks or even months, to the point where psychologists speculated inmates could develop severe mental disorders.

According to The Verge, the trend hasn’t changed much from 2013 to 2017. The media outlet obtained administrative logs from CoreCivic and GEO Group following a Freedom of Information Request. The logs show there has been a marked shift in who solitary confinement is keeping away from the general population.

With facilities expected to fill back up after a gradual period of emptying out, crowding again becoming a problem in federal and private detention centers alike.

Immigrants can be held for years while awaiting the results of deportation proceedings. Just like spectators at a football match, not everyone sharing the same space has much in common aside from proximity. Farmhands, berry-pickers, students, young adults, and senior citizens can be locked in with suspected delinquents and gang members.

An immigrant peering out of an isolation cell; image courtesy of John Moore, Getty Images

One inmate at a facility in Lumpkin, GA, asked to be placed in solitary confinement for a month. He felt threatened by inmates affiliated with violent and transnational criminal organizations such as the Surenos and MS-13, having been extorted by gang members in his home country of El Salvador.

The administrative logs dug up by The Verge show isolation being used inappropriately as a punishment, too. The language used by guards and overseers at GEO Group and CoreCivic facilities isn’t always easy to decipher, though. Sometimes inmates were written up and thrown into solitary for “horseplay.” One unlucky woman found herself in the hole after trying to pass a flirtatious remark to a male on-duty guard.

Most disturbing of all are the cases pertaining to detainees who were clearly showing signs of severe mental illness. A man was placed in “punitive isolation” for a month after he was observed urinating into a cup and then drinking “the same urine.”

Instead of being referred to a counselor or psychological services, he was punished for disturbing the sensibilities of staff.

ICE detainees are asking to be put in solitary confinement for their own safety

Immigrants Held in Solitary Cells, Often for Weeks

Solitary Confinment


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