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DHS Inspectors Found ICE Detainees Who Were Kept In Solitary Confinement For 300 Days

Inspectors also found that nearly a dozen immigrants detainees were kept in solitary confinement for more than two months.

Posted on December 17, 2020, at 4:24 p.m. ET

Ted S. Warren / AP

An immigrant detainee waits in an ICE holding area in 2019.

Nearly a dozen immigrants arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were kept in solitary confinement for more than two months, including two people who were isolated for more than 300 days, according to a draft Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The draft, which highlighted a February inspection of the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, California, also documented how food at the facility had expired and gone moldy.

ICE has come under fire in recent years for issues related to medical care provided at its detention centers. In some facilities, ICE provides medical care directly; in others, a few employees assist contractors; and in many cases, the agency oversees care provided by a contractor.

In September, the House Oversight Committee found that ICE detainees died after receiving inadequate medical care and that jail workers “falsified records to cover up” issues. That same month, a separate committee report issued by the House Homeland Security Committee found that ICE detainees are often given deficient medical care and that detention centers use segregation as a threat against immigrants.

The draft report obtained by BuzzFeed News documents how officials at the detention facility in Calexico were using solitary confinement as a long term “solution” for immigrants in “protective custody,” or those who need special supervision or housing due to risks to their safety.

Detainees can request protective custody at any time. ICE also allows detainees to be placed in solitary confinement, called “administrative segregation” for those isolated for nonpunitive reasons, if their presence would pose a threat to the lives of other detainees or themselves.

David Goldman / AP

A detainee sits in an ICE holding cell in 2019.

“During our inspection, we identified serious violations regarding the administrative segregation of detainees at [Imperial Regional Detention Facility],” the report states. “Specifically, IRDF was using administrative segregation as a long-term solution for detainees in protective custody and overly restricted detainees by not offering privileges similar to those offered to detainees in general housing units.”

In addition to finding 11 immigrants had been kept in solitary confinement for more than 60 days and two others for more than 300 days, inspectors said there had been no documented review to evaluate the continued solitary confinement and the immigrants were not afforded recreation time for an hour a day, as required. The inspectors also said the detainees received inadequate medical checks.

“Our examination of segregation records showed the facility inaccurately reported to ICE that detainees were receiving recreation time when, in fact, they were not,” the inspectors wrote. “Moreover, detainees in administrative segregation were restricted to their individual cells for approximately 22 to 23 hours a day without access to the same group activities or opportunities as those in the general population.”

ICE officials maintain that there are regular reviews of detainees who are kept in solitary confinement and that they are offered recreational time.

Elsewhere, the report found other problems, including with the way the facility was storing food.

The inspectors reported finding expired frozen tortillas, turkey bologna, and moldy zucchini in the food preparation and storage area. The facility’s officials said that they had not marked frozen food and produce packages with expiration dates.

“Such practices can lead to detainee illness from ingesting spoiled meat or rotten produce,” the inspectors wrote.

Greg Archambeault, a lead ICE official in the region, pointed out that the report said detainees had been classified appropriately at the facility. Classifications sort detainees out between low- and high-risk populations and are kept within specific groups based on their backgrounds.

“We are firmly committed to prioritizing the health, safety, and welfare of all of those in our care and custody,” he said. “We have reviewed OIGs recommendations and attribute meeting compliance standards regarding detainee classification at IRDF to the dedication of the officers at the facility. We concur with the OIGs additional recommendations and have taken corrective action where appropriate to ensure our continued compliance with PBNDS [Performance Based National Detention Standards].”

The DHS inspector general’s office said it “declines to comment on our work before it is finalized and published.”

Issa Arnita, a spokesperson for Management and Training Corporation, the company that runs the Calexico facility, said they disagree with items in the report, which they noted had not been finalized.

“We disagree with the initial claims made in the ‘draft’ IG report. We have thoroughly reviewed the claims and provided a detailed response to the IG to correct the information reported in the draft report. We have not yet heard back from the IG regarding our responses,” Arnita said in a statement. “In general, we can say that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has established a detailed policy for the use of special housing as outlined in the Performance Based National Detention Standards. We strictly follow this policy. We work directly with ICE to determine if an individual must be placed in special housing — and in all cases, it is to protect the safety of detainees.”

Arnita added that immigrants in special housing units “have daily access to outdoor recreation. In fact, the facility recently expanded the capacity of the recreation area designated for those in the special housing unit to accommodate more people.”

Arnita also said that detainees were never served expired food and that medical staff were conducting daily visits.

“In some cases, the visits were done early in the day and were not documented properly. We have addressed and resolved this issue as medical visits are now done later in the morning and documented immediately,” he said.

The latest report is not the first time ICE’s use of solitary confinement has been criticized.

In 2019, the Project on Government Oversight obtained a DHS review through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that found that ICE had kept a separate group of detainees with mental illness in solitary confinement. That same year, NBC News found that the agency had kept thousands of detainees in solitary confinement for rule violations and cases involving “the mentally ill, the disabled or others who were sent to solitary largely for what ICE described as safety reasons.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.