People with mental illness who are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are frequently subjected to abuse and solitary confinement by officers and detention center administrators who are incapable of providing adequate care. Despite years of documentation of ICE’s negligent treatment of people with mental health challenges and abusive use of solitary confinement, ICE has failed to remedy its deficiencies, resulting in egregious consequences.
In 2022, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and three previously detained individuals filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) detailing ICE’s pervasive mistreatment of people with mental illness. Three doctors with years of experience working across the immigration detention system provided expert testimony in the complaint. The complaint requests a system-wide investigation into mental health care in immigrant detention and ICE’s abusive use of solitary confinement.
The findings and testimony in the civil rights complaint are emblematic of system-wide deficiencies in the immigration detention system and demonstrate the urgency of communities’ call to end the use of immigrant detention.
Key findings in NIJC’s complaint:
- People in detention experience significant delays in mental health care and unanswered requests for care.
One complainant waited up to a month before getting a mental health appointment even though he suffered from bipolar disorder and was in urgent need of medication. He did not receive any treatment during the four months he was in ICE custody. Another waited two months before seeing a mental health provider despite worsening symptoms of clinical depression.
- ICE’s neglect has resulted in egregious consequences like self-harm.
Doctors describe the case of a man who thrived in his life prior to detention while taking medication for his schizophrenia diagnosis. In detention, ICE failed to provide him any medication for two weeks and then offered him only an ineffective substitute medication. He suffered hallucinations and four suicide attempts as a result.
- ICE regularly uses solitary confinement disproportionately against individuals suffering from mental health challenges, often in reaction to minor incidents.
Doctors testify in the complaint that “solitary confinement is being used both as a short- and long-term approach to managing mental illness within detention facilities.”
Detention staff repeatedly placed one complainant in solitary confinement for incidents as minor as forgetting to wear a T-shirt. The man describes solitary confinement as follows: “I came to feel in a way that I’d never felt before. I thought about having to return to Nicaragua, where I would be in danger… I felt depressed. I cried whenever I was in solitary. I could not sleep. We didn’t have the right to do anything. I felt like I didn’t want to live.”
Another complainant intentionally hid her self-harm from the detention staff out of fear of being sent to solitary confinement.
- ICE’s system-wide failures regarding mental health treatment and care violate its own standards.
ICE’s treatment of all three complainants violated the 2019 National Detention Standards for Non-Dedicated Facilities and the 2008 Performance Based National Detention Standards.