HIRCP Files Lawsuit Concerning Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention

Legal advocates from Harvard Law School have filed a complaint against the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) after repeated attempts to obtain information regarding the use and impact of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities. The lawsuit, filed by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (“HIRCP”) and co-counsel Jenner & Block London LLP, asserts that DHS has continually failed to fully comply with the Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by HIRCP more than four years ago.

“We are deeply concerned by DHS’s continuous disregard for the FOIAs we submitted over the past four years,” said Philip Torrey, Managing Attorney at HIRCP and Director of the Harvard Crimmigration Clinic. “Government transparency is essential to any functioning democracy and we need the chance to review DHS’s records.”

Immigrants’ rights advocates have raised concerns regarding the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. In 2019, a DHS whistleblower released shocking information that detailed the nefarious use of solitary confinement in detention facilities. This practice was especially common among vulnerable populations in DHS’s custody, including LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.

“There is clear evidence that long-term solitary confinement has devastating effects, particularly on trauma survivors,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, Director of HIRCP. “It is essential that we obtain these records in order to ensure that DHS is not continuing past harmful practices.”

The three FOIA requests submitted in 2017 specifically requested information regarding solitary confinement of immigrants with disabilities and those with mental health concerns and other vulnerabilities. In 2018, ICE responded to the request, indicating that the records had been located, but they had yet to be released at the time of the complaint, over three years later.

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert