Cantwell Calls for Investigating Overuse of Migrant Solitary Confinement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined 11 of her colleagues in sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Patrick Lechleitner calling on the department to end the misuse of solitary confinement at ICE facilities.

“We call on DHS to end the misuse of solitary confinement in immigration detention and establish meaningful alternatives to solitary confinement that would eventually end its use in immigration detention, except under exigent circumstances,” the senators wrote.

In the letter, the senators additionally asked DHS to provide a full accounting of the steps the agency plans to take to limit the use of solitary confinement; the number of individuals placed in solitary confinement at ICE facilities since 2017, as well as the length of their confinement; the barriers the agency faces in finding alternatives to solitary confinement; the steps ICE has taken to comply with its internal guidance governing solitary confinement; and the actions ICE has taken to comply with the previous reports by the Government Accountability Office and the DHS Inspector General. The senators requested a response no later than Friday, April 5.

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Also last week, Sen. Cantwell issued the following statement about the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) in Tacoma:

“The conditions for migrants, particularly the overuse of solitary confinement, at the Northwest ICE Processing Center need to be investigated. The Department of Homeland Security needs to more aggressively implement its Inspector General's recommendations to ensure that this immigration detention center is safe, humane, and well-managed," Sen. Cantwell said.

For the past several years, Sen. Cantwell has been concerned about conditions at NWIPC. In November 2018, Sen. Cantwell joined colleagues in the Washington delegation in calling for answers and writing a letter to the Inspector General (IG) requesting a comprehensive investigation and review of the conditions at NWIPC following the death of Mergansana Amar, a Russian asylum seeker being held at the facility. In October 2019, Sen. Cantwell wrote another letter to the IG calling for an investigation into the use of solitary confinement at the facility.

In July 2020, the IG issued a report describing failures by the GEO Group – the company that operates processing and residential facilities on behalf of ICE – to comply with existing ICE policies on solitary confinement. In May 2023, the IG published a follow-up report after an unannounced inspection of NWIPC. The 2023 report concluded that the GEO Group was in compliance with ICE policy on solitary confinement, but also made eight specific recommendations to ICE to improve conditions and operations at NWIPC.