Undocumented Life: Report claims detention centers are unfairly punishing immigrants

Many of the country’s immigration detention centers use solitary confinement improperly to punish detainees, according to a new report from immigration activist and doctors.

The report alleges that undocumented immigrants housed in detention centers, including McHenry County Jail and Tri-County Detention Center, are often being punished with a 23-hour lockdown also known as "solitary confinement." These detainees are placed under solitary confinement for things such as having an extra blanket, watching Spanish television or having a newspaper in the cell, the report says.

The report found solitary confinement was "used as a discriminatory form of punishment,” Mary Meg McCarthy, National Immigrant Justice Center’s executive director, said Tuesday.

McCarthy said detainees are also placed under solitary confinement for their sexual orientation. For example,transgender individuals are usually placed in segregation.

Mike Corradini, Physicians for Human Rights asylum advocacy associate and co-author of the report, said it was troubling to see such a practice and lack of mental health services.

Corradini warned that placing detainees in solitary confinement can lead to "irreversible mental problems."

The report says immigration enforcement officials have failed to enforce consistent segregation standards in its detention facilities. As a result, jails often apply local correctional policies to manage both immigration and non-immigration detainees, leading to the widespread use of solitary confinement.

Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration Custom and Enforcement, said the agency has made significant reforms to the detention system.

“While ICE has not yet had an opportunity to thoroughly review the National Immigrant Justice Center report, we stand behind our ongoing detention reform efforts as well as our work in prioritizing our resources on criminal aliens who are threats to public safety, through smart policies and a focus on enforcing the law effectively,” Montenegro said in a statement.

For Rashed Binrashed, reform didn’t come soon enough.

Binrashed is from Yemen, but is seeking asylum. He was housed in several detention centers in the Midwest, including the Tri-County facility, for three years and has been under solitary confinement several times. The first time, he asked the guard not to take him to the dining hall because he was fasting during Ramadan, but the guard instead placed him in solitary confinement for 30 days.

He said it was difficult to experience this type of punishment only for practicing his Muslim faith.

“I’m fighting persecution in my homeland, a third world country, yet I’m here asking for help,” he said. “This is crazy.”

He fled Yemen in 1999 after his family received threats from the government. His father was a pro-democracy activist and when the government’s intelligence service started kidnapping political activists, the teenager fled the country. He came to the United States seeking asylum.

Binrashed ended up in a detention center following a stop by police for a broken taillight. The police searched his car and found he was Yemeni – his lawyers say he received bad legal advice when he claimed he was from Somalia and then won asylum. The Department of Homeland Security took him and placed him under deportation proceedings. He is no longer in the detention center but has continued to fight his case. Last year, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted him “withholding of removal,” which means he will not be deported.

Unlike many of the undocumented immigrants who pass through the detention center, Binrashsed has refused to put this experience behind him. Instead, he shares his story in hopes immigration officials change their procedures.



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