Confined to her small cell for 23 hours a day and deprived of all human contact, Dulce Rivera grew more and more desperate and depressed. After four weeks, she hung herself, but was cut down while still alive. After a trip to the hospital, she was returned to solitary confinement—this time because she was considered a suicide risk.
Rivera was originally placed in solitary because of allegations, later determined to be unfounded, that she had touched or kissed another detainee. She is one of thousands of detained immigrants forced into solitary confinement, without any disciplinary reason. A shocking report from NBC News details their plight. Documentation was obtained through a FOIA request and from Department of Homeland Security policy adviser Ellen Gallagher, a whistleblower now going public after five years of unsuccessfully trying to get someone inside the system to listen:
“The newly obtained documents paint a disturbing portrait of a system where detainees are sometimes forced into extended periods of isolation for reasons that have nothing to do with violating any rules.
“Disabled immigrants in need of a wheelchair or cane. Those who identify as gay. Those who report abuse from guards or other detainees.
“Only half of the cases involved punishment for rule violations. The other half were unrelated to disciplinary concerns — they involve the mentally ill, the disabled or others who were sent to solitary largely for what ICE described as safety reasons.
“A Guatemalan man spent two months in solitary confinement at a county jail in Maryland. The reason: He had a prosthetic leg.
“A mentally ill Ukrainian man was put in isolation for 15 days at a detention facility in Arizona. His offense: putting half a green pepper in one of his socks.
“In nearly a third of the cases, segregated detainees were determined by ICE to have a mental illness, a population especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of isolation.”
Nearly a decade ago, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture called for the abolition of solitary confinement “except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible, with an absolute prohibition in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities.”
Other instances of cruelty as the usual policy under this administration include the recent ICE arrest of the mother and grandparents of a five-year-old girl. The child watched, screaming and crying as ICE agents arrested her mother and then, with guns drawn, took her grandmother, still in pajamas, and her grandfather and a cousin into custody. Her mother, who has legal DACA status, was later released. Her grandfather and her grandmother, Rev. Betty Rendon, a pastor in a Lutheran church in Racine, Wisconsin, are now detained and in deportation proceedings. They fled Colombia in 2004, under threat from guerrillas who were trying to recruit students in the school where Mrs. Rendon then taught, but her asylum petition was denied.
Then there’s the buzz about the imminent appointment of Ken Cuccinelli as an “immigration czar.” There is no such position, and it’s unclear what Cuccinelli’s job will be, particularly as he has no immigration experience.
Cuccinelli has denounced LGBT folks and immigrants for years, supporting legislation to end birthright citizenship and to deny unemployment benefits to any employees who do not speak English.
According to America’s Voice, “Cuccinelli’s record includes the following: he has compared immigrants to rats; he rails against ‘ILLEGAL aliens;’ he said ‘the caravan remains an ongoing threat to our country’s sovereignty and safety;’ and he called White Nationalist Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa ‘one of my very favorite congressmen.’”
Cuccinelli will fit right in with the ethos of those like Border Patrol Agent Matthew Bowen.
“In November 2017, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Matthew Bowen fumed about the humane treatment his agency was expected to give migrants who had illegally crossed into the country.
“PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!” he texted another agent who, at the time, was facing criminal charges for shooting an unarmed Mexican teenager through the border fence. Migrants, Bowen suggested, are “disgusting subhuman s— unworthy of being kindling for a fire.”
“Less than two weeks later, prosecutors say, Bowen hit one such migrant with his truck, coming inches away from running the man over — and then lied about the incident in a report….
“In one text exchange, an unnamed agent asked Bowen, “Did you gas hiscorpse (sic) or just use regular peanut oil while tazing?? For a frying effect.” Bowen responded: “Guats are best made crispy, with olive oil from their native pais,” using the Spanish word for “country” that doubles as an insult toward Guatemalans, the Daily Star reported. In another text, he refers to “mindless murdering savages.”
Bowen’s lawyer defends him in court with the argument that he is just using expressions that are common in the Border Patrol culture. These are the agents that Trump wants to make the first decisions on asylum cases.
These anti-immigrant policies and practices are killing people, invisibly in the deser. The latest death of a child in Border Patrol custody came on May 20—Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan who had been kept in a holding facility for six days, twice as long as the law allows, even after being diagnosed with the flu.
The numbers of immigrants and of children held in immigration detention continue to climb, far beyond the limits set by or funded by Congress. Currently, some 52,000 immigrants are held in detention, despite a Congressionally-set limit of 45,000. Detaining asylum seekers is unnecessary as well as cruel, with evidence showing that the vast majority show up for court hearings.
None of these cruel policies work. As Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said:
“The facts show that since this administration began implementing its immigration and border policies, the challenge at the border went from bad to worse: the numbers of border crossers has increased, children have died in CBP custody for the first time in more than a decade, spending on detention has dramatically increased with no end in sight, and worse yet, inhumane conditions in detention remain unaddressed.”