(MintPress) – “ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is clearly using excessive force, since these are civil detentions,” said Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who studies solitary confinement at the Wright Institute, a graduate school in psychology based in Berkeley, Calif. “And that makes this a human rights abuse.”
According to new federal data released last week, immigration officials are holding about 300 undocumented immigrants in solitary confinement sometimes as long as 75 days in conditions that the United Nations (U.N.) has decried as a form of torture.
The data collected from 50 detention facilities across the United States over the past year offers never before seen data highlighting the condition undocumented immigrants face during detention.
Based upon interviews lawyers conducted with current and former detainees, individuals in solitary confinement often spend 23 hours a day in windowless 6-foot-by-13-foot cells. Those who are isolated for long stretches are typically given one hour of daily recreation time spent in an enclosed area described as “the cage” because of its resemblance to an indoor dog kennel.
Minor infractions can land a detainee in solitary confinement for 30 days or more. Rashed Bin Rashed, a detainee from Yemen, spent a month in isolation at a detention facility in Juneau, Wis. because of his refusal to eat at regularly scheduled meals during Ramadan, a time when Muslims typically fast from sunup to sundown. Bin Rashed described the isolation as the worst experience of his life.
Another detainee in Sherburne County, Minn., said she was isolated after guards found a jar of peanut butter and a Kool-Aid packet in her cell — both classified as “banned” items by authorities.
In October 2011, the U.N. declared that any solitary confinement longer than two weeks constitutes a form of psychological torture, recommending that countries around the globe ban the practice altogether. Despite being one of the only democratic countries to use solitary confinement, the U.S. government has not abolished the practice.
Juan Mendez, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, claimed in 2011 that the United States is “in breach of its obligations under the U.N.’s torture convention.”
In 2005, the last year the U.S. government released prison statistics, more than 80,000 prisoners were held in solitary confinement across the country. The practice is one that has been used extensively at U.S. prisons for many years.
“Solitary confinement has been used extensively, it always has,” said Wilbert Rideau, former inmate and writer. “I was in prison for 44 years; it was a normal part of life — the practice of it. They put you in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons, they put you in solitary confinement to protect you from violence or whatever, and they also put you in solitary confinement just to show you who has got the power.”
– Wilbert Rideau, former inmate and writer
The U.N. pronouncement is salient given the fact that 11 percent of all detainees who spend time in solitary confinement later reported incidences of mental health problems, including depression after their release.
Although just 1 percent of the roughly 32,000 undocumented immigrants held by immigration authorities each day are subject to stints in solitary confinement, the data is alarming for human rights defenders and immigrant rights proponents.
Detainee isolation is part of a bigger unresolved immigration issue. Because of the Obama administration’s preference for “detain and deport” policies, ICE has pursued a policy of mass detention as the main method of dealing with the large numbers of undocumented immigrants residing in the United States, roughly 11 million nationwide.
The Obama administration has been responsible for more than 1.5 million deportations since taking office in 2008, far exceeding the numbers deported during the presidency of George W. Bush.
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