Thousands of immigrants detained at the U.S. border are being kept in solitary confinement, many simply because they are LGBTQ or disabled, according to a new report by NBC News.
An investigative report suggests that widespread use of solitary isolation for individuals detained for their own “safety” and living under harsh and oppressive rules usually applied only to dangerous criminals.
According to reports obtained by the outlet, about half those kept in solitary are there for breaking rules. The rest are there because they are mentally ill or physically disable, LGBTQ, or in some cases because they have been abused by guards, the report says.
The NBC report focuses on Dulce Rivera, a trans woman who fled Central America and ended up in solitary at an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainment center in New Mexico. She said she stayed inside solitary 23 hours a day.
"You never know what day it is, what time it is," she said in an interview. "Sometimes you never see the sun."
In Rivera’s case, she was accused of kissing and improperly touching other detainees, though the allegations were later determined to be unfounded. During her time in solitary, she tried to hang herself once, which landed her back in solitary under suicide watch.
The situation for many viewers may invoke the story of Roxsana Hernandez, a Honduran refugee and trans woman who died in ICE custody last year. Official coroner reports suggest she died of health concerns tied to being HIV-positive. But the Transgender Law Center independently found signs of abuse.
The thousands of records examined by NBC News date back years, and don’t cover the time of Hernandez’s death.
The outlet examined reports of incidents that occurred in ICE facilities both under President Trump and President Obama. The records span a time from March 2012 through March 2017. In that time, 8,488 detainees ended up in solitary.
NBC spoke to a whistleblower within ICE who suggested detention policies at centers led to widespread abuse.
"We have created and continue to support a system that involves widespread abuse of human beings," Ellen Gallagher, a police advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, told the news outlet.
ICE policies say “segregated housing” should only be used after other options have been exhausted. Regulations label solitary “a serious step that requires careful consideration of alternatives."
Gallagaher said ICE has been violating its own guidelines. But an official from ICE disputed that in a response to the network.
"The use of restrictive housing in ICE detention facilities is exceedingly rare, but at times necessary, to ensure the safety of staff and individuals in a facility,” the spokesman told NBC.
“ICE's policy governing the use of special management units protects detainees, staff, contractors and volunteers from harm by segregating certain detainees from the general population for both administrative and disciplinary reasons."