Harvard immigration clinic sues for records on ICE detention

January 18, 2022 GMT

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — A Harvard Law School clinic has sued federal immigration officials for failing to release records about the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities.

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program said in a lawsuit filed in Boston federal court that it submitted records requests to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the agencies haven’t fully complied in more than four years.

The Cambridge-based clinic said immigrant rights advocates have raised concerns over the use of solitary confinement on vulnerable immigrant populations, including LGBTQ individuals and people with disabilities.

“There is clear evidence that longterm solitary confinement has devastating effects, particularly on trauma survivors,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, the clinic’s director. “It is essential that we obtain these records in order to ensure that DHS is not continuing past harmful practices.”

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The Harvard clinic says it submitted three Freedom of Information Act requests in 2017 specifically requesting information on the use of solitary on immigrants with disabilities, mental health concerns and other vulnerabilities.

The clinic says ICE indicated in 2018 that the records were located, but the information has yet to be released.

John Mohan, an ICE spokesperson for the New England region, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation but said use of restrictive housing or segregation are “exceedingly rare, but at times necessary” when a detainee “becomes confrontational, destructive, or unsafe.”

According to ICE guidelines, detainees can be segregated from the general population not just for disciplinary reasons but also for non-punitive, administrative reasons, including to protect a vulnerable detainee from harm when no other reasonable alternatives are available.

Detainees in segregation still have access to visitation, use of the telephone and the commissary, along with daily contact with detention and medical staff, and recreation, library and religious activities, according to the guidelines.

The clinic’s lawsuit also notes that ICE issued a directive in 2013 mandating a systematic review of the use of solitary confinement for detainees.