ICE is Putting LGBT People in Solitary Confinement for No Reason

A new report from The Intercept finds that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is putting LGBT, disabled and mentally vulnerable detainees in solitary confinement as a matter of course and for no justifiable reason.

The report, The Intercept produced in conjunction with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, looked at more than 8,400 government reports from 2012 to March 2017. Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, those reports describe ICE placing detainees in solitary confinement and the reasons why.

ICE is only supposed to use solitary confinement in extreme circumstances, for example where it believes detainees may be a danger to themselves or others. It is also worth underscoring that ICE detainees are not legally classed as prisoners and therefore the discretionary use of solitary confinement should be even more tightly controlled.

What emerges from the new report is that not only is ICE apparently using solitary confinement as a routine means of dealing with detainees—a practice that the information shows goes back to ICE under the Obama administration—but that it is doing so as a means of dealing with immigration detainees based on their identity. The agency is also using solitary as a means of controlling what they deem problematic behavior—behaviors as innocuous as consensual kissing (and again, detainees are not prisoners).

In fact, the data reveals that only half of cases where ICE used solitary confinement were actually to punish a detainee for rule violations.

The United Nations says that no one should be subjected to solitary confinement for more than 15 days and that solitary confinement must be reserved for the most severe and difficult cases, because of the high risk of psychological damage that protracted it can cause. Even where detainees have violated the rules, solitary should not be a go-to punishment. Rather, it would be a last resort until proper arrangements can be made to house a violent or unstable detainee somewhere else.

Some of the reasons ICE allegedly used solitary confinement on detainees are truly disturbing. A mentally ill man was put in solitary for 15 days for putting a half a green pepper in one of his socks, for example. The report notes that a third of detainees put in solitary had some sort of mental illness. In general, solitary confinement does not help mentally ill people—it makes them worse.

Another example cited in the report is of a man who was placed in solitary because he had a prosthetic leg—and that was it. He had not done anything, nor had he made it known that he wanted to do anything threatening or potentially harmful to other detainees. ICE placed around 60 disabled detainees in solitary for no other reason than that they required wheelchairs or mobility aides of some kind.

Other uses of solitary confinement were apparently to punish people who had complained about treatment they had received at the hands of other ICE guards. One came as a result of a woman complaining that a guard would not speak Spanish to her when she does not understand English.

Perhaps one of the most hard-hitting stories to emerge from this investigative report is that of transgender Honduran woman Dulce Rivera.

ICE officers placed Rivera in solitary confinement in May of 2018 for no other reason than her being trans. A month into her confinement, where they only gave her an hour a day outside of her cell, she fashioned a noose and attempted to hang herself. The guards stopped her, then placed her in “suicide safe” solitary confinement. She reports that even now, free from that facility, she suffers mental ill-health as a result.

ICE classes LGBT people as vulnerable, but rather than policing the behavior of other detainees, it often puts LGBT people in solitary. Similarly, it places disabled and mentally vulnerable people in solitary for “their own protection”.

However, the facts seem to disprove that argument. One suicidal Iraqi man was placing in solitary confinement for 30 days after he cut himself with a razor. This order was made not to protect the man but as an apparent punishment for a “weapons offence” relating to self-mutilation. Placing a person in solitary who is exhibiting suicidal ideation or self-harming without the appropriate safeguards and medical attention puts that person in extreme danger.

Ellen Gallagher, a policy adviser at the Department of Homeland Security has first hand experience of ICE’s policies. Gallagher tells The Intercept she believes, “Solitary confinement was being used as the first resort, not the last resort,” and that ICE is not following its own directives around the practice.

ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett told NBC News that segregation or segregated housing—which is what ICE calls isolation—is a vital means of ensuring that “detainees, staff, contractors, and volunteers” are protected “from harm.” Bennett also draws attention to another statistic: that on average only half a percent of ICE’s total detainees were held in solitary for 14 days or more in 2018.

However, critics say this doesn’t answer the charge. No matter how small the population being held in solitary, if ICE is holding people in solitary simply because of their identity or because of their mental health, it is breaking its own rules and subjecting immigrant detainees from at-risk minorities to punitive detention. Furthermore, under the Trump administration’s fervor for anti-immigrant rhetoric, the population under ICE control has grown substantially. NBC puts the figure at around 50,000 immigrants in detention on any given day, a historic high.

As the number of people in ICE detention grows, the risk of arbitrary solitary confinement becomes an even more pressing concern and one that ICE must investigate and remedy without delay.

Photo credit: Getty Images.


Karen H
Karen H9 days ago

The United Nations needs to step in and investigate these human rights violations. Trump, his entire administration, and ICE all need to be locked up. Wonder how they'd like solitary confinement.

Leo C
Leo Custer12 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

Leo Custer
Leo Custer18 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Chad A
Chad Anderson19 days ago

Thank you.

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin20 days ago

Still finding ways to violate human rights

S M21 days ago

‘..... segregated housing—which is what ICE calls isolation—is a vital means of ensuring that “detainees, staff, contractors, and volunteers” are protected “from harm.”‘. This statement by an official shows the usual paranoia that America demonstrates on anything that takes thought, education and a worldliness to understand. Which often produces cruelty and poor decisions, often more akin of a past century. .... And yet they think themselves fit to rule the world!

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan H22 days ago



Total ignorance. Unacceptable, disturbing and immoral. But humans are here and should be treated with respect and kindness but that said and in my opinion (many will not agree) that the main culprit here is human overpopulation. Thanks for sharing.

Brian F
Brian F24 days ago

I agree that solitary confinement should only be a last resort, but vulnerable imates need to be seperated from the general population, or they will be harmed in some way. The border is under siege and thousands of illegal immigrants are trying to flood into the country. ICE has an obligation to treat people humanely, but is having a very difficult time handling the 50,000 illegal immigrants in their custudy. This is why I support Trump's effort to limit legal immigration. The USA is already severely overpopulated and cannot accept endless waves of illegal immigrants flooding into it's country