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(September 2012) — Immigrants in detention facilities around the United States often are subjected to punitive and long-term solitary confinement and denied meaningful avenues of appeal, according to an investigation by Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). The two human rights groups surveyed conditions in more than a dozen detention centers and county jails that contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The result is the first comprehensive examination of the effects of solitary confinement on immigration detainees.

While the harm caused by solitary confinement to inmates in prisons and jails has been well documented, Invisible in Isolation: The Use of Segregation and Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention shows that solitary confinement of immigrants in detention is often arbitrarily applied, inadequately monitored, harmful to their health, and a violation of their due process rights. NIJC and PHR uncovered numerous cases in which detention facilities placed mentally ill immigrants in solitary confinement rather than treating them, or separated sexual minorities against their wishes from the general inmate population. Many immigration detainees in solitary confinement had strict limits placed on such “privileges” as outdoor recreation, reading material, and even access to legal counsel. Overall, investigators found, ICE has failed to hold detention centers and jails accountable for their abusive use of solitary confinement.

In the report, NIJC and PHR call on ICE and Congress to end solitary confinement in immigration detention, severely limit other forms of segregation, and implement stricter oversight of the detention system.