Man in detention center

End Solitary Confinement in ICE Detention

February 29, 2024

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas
Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
2707 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20528

Mr. Patrick J. Lechleitner
Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
2707 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20528

Delivered via e-mail

RE: End solitary confinement in ICE detention

Dear President Biden, Secretary Mayorkas, and Acting Director Lechleitner:

The undersigned 194 organizations-–which include medical, academic, human rights, immigration, civil rights, and faith groups—write today with an urgent call to action: DHS must end the practice of solitary confinement in all immigration detention centers. A new report released February 6th, Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention, details the horrors of solitary confinement in ICE custody. The report, a collaboration between Physicians for Human Rights, researchers at Harvard Medical School, and faculty and students at Harvard Law School, is the latest in a seemingly perpetual documentation of ICE’s excessive and arbitrary use of solitary confinement and the agency’s violations of both international conventions and domestic and international legal standards. ICE lacks meaningful or effective oversight or accountability for these abuses, which inflict serious and sometimes irreparable harm on detained people. In short, the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention certainly meets the definition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law, and in multiple cases documented in the report, crosses that threshold to constitute torture. It is far past time to end it.

This latest report details FOIA data revealing that people were placed in solitary confinement over 14,000 times in the last five years alone (the report also notes this is likely an undercount), with an average duration of 27 days–nearly double the 15-day threshold that United Nations human rights experts find constitutes torture. Disturbingly, in 10 of those instances, people were held in solitary confinement for over a year. The report also demonstrates, in harrowing detail, how people in solitary confinement are held in small cells in isolation for minor infractions, as a form of retaliation, or as “protection.” This isolation, with little to no human contact, exacerbates existing mental health conditions or leads to new ones, and underscores the dehumanizing, punitive, and carceral nature of ICE detention. 

People in detention, their loved ones, attorneys, and advocates have been sounding alarm bells for over a decade. Yet time and time again, we see well-documented instances of ICE violating its own written policies. You are no doubt aware of the many official complaints, letters, reports, congressional hearings, and persistent calls for reform, including from Members of Congress, independent government agencies, state officials, whistleblowers, government watchdog groups, as well as civil and human rights NGOs

Over a decade ago—soon after a major report detailed ICE’s overuse of solitary confinement—ICE issued a “Segregation Directive” providing written guidance to ICE detention sites. The directive stated that solitary confinement, particularly for vulnerable populations, should be used “only as a last resort and when no other viable housing alternatives exist.” Homeland

Notably, there is overwhelming support for ending the use of solitary confinement in the United States, including from President Biden: in 2020, the Biden/Harris campaign pledged to largely end the use of solitary confinement. Members of Congress have also introduced federal legislation to end solitary confinement. At the state and local level, more and more elected officials are taking action: since 2009, the vast majority of states have passed bills to restrict or end the use of solitary confinement.

ICE has failed to respond effectively to the mountain of evidence that it is keeping people in solitary confinement in both unnecessarily and dangerous, and at times life-threatening, conditions. We know the profound physical and mental health deterioration caused by solitary confinement. Efforts at modest reforms, such as improving data collection, reporting and oversight, and tweaking internal written guidance, have done little to stop egregious human rights violations in ICE detention. It is time to end ICE’s use of solitary confinement, full stop. 

“Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention contains detailed recommendations that can serve as a roadmap for phasing out your use of solitary confinement, as well as immediate and urgent reforms to undertake. In the meantime, we urge you to immediately and publicly commit to ending solitary confinement in ICE detention.


Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Physicians for Human Rights


Joined by:

Acacia Center for Justice

The Advocates for Human Rights

Afghans For A Better Tomorrow

African Communities Together (ACT)


Al Otro Lado

Alianza Americas

Alianza Sacramento

American Civil Liberties Union

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

American Immigration Council

American Immigration Lawyers Association

American University Washington College of Law – Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Americans for Immigrant Justice

America’s Voice

Amnesty International USA

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP)

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Borderlands Resource Initiative

Boston College Law School Civil Rights Clinic

Boston Immigration Justice and Accompaniment Network

Boston University Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program

Bridges Faith Initiative

The Bronx Defenders

California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice

California Immigrant Policy Center

Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition

Casa Marianella

Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

Center for Racial Justice, UC Santa Cruz

Center for Victims of Torture

Central American Minors (CAM) Working Group

Central American Resource Center

Centreville Immigration Forum

Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts

Church World Service

Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

Communities United for Status & Protection (CUSP)

Community Change Action

Community for Children

Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC)

Columbia Human Rights Initiative Asylum Clinic (CHRIA)

Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

Conversations with Friends (of Minnesota)

Cornell Asylum & Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic

Defending Rights & Dissent

Detention Watch Network

Disability Rights California

Drug Policy Alliance

End Solitary Santa Cruz County [CA]

Estrella del Paso (Formerly DMRS)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Faith In Texas

Families For Freedom INC

First Friends of New Jersey & New York

Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project

Florida Legal Services, Inc.

Freedom BLOC

Free Migration Project

Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom Network USA

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Georgia Human Rights Clinic

Global Refuge

Government Accountability Project

Government Information Watch

The Gubbio Project

H-CAN Immigration and Refugees Action Group

Haitian Bridge Alliance

Hispanic Federation

Home is Here NOLA

Hope Border Institute

Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights First

Human Rights Watch

Humanitarian Outreach for Migrant Emotional Health (H.O.M.E.)

Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Immigrant Defense Advocates

The Immigrant Health Equity and Legal Partnership (ImmHELP)

Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Immigrant Service Providers Group/Health

Immigration Equality

Immigration Hub

Immigration Justice Task Force, First Parish in Concord

Innovation Law Lab

Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America (IFCLA)

International Human Rights Law Institute

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)

International Rescue Committee


JUNTOS Philadelphia

Justice Action Center

Justice in Motion

Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco

Kino Border Initiative

La Resistencia

Latin America Working Group

Latino Community Center

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Lawyers for Good Government

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

LCH Behavioral Health Services PLLC

Legal Services for Children

Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention

Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants – LORI

Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA)

Make the Road Pennsylvania

Make the Road NY

Mariposa Legal, program of COMMON Foundation

Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Medical Mission Sisters – Justice Office

Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

MetroWest Legal Services

Minnesota Freedom Fund


Mobile Pathways

Mountain State Justice

Muslim Advocates

National Association of Social Workers

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Project

National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR)

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New York Immigration Coalition

North Carolina Justice Center

Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

NYU Asylum Clinic

Oasis Legal Services

Oregon Justice Resource Center

Pangea Legal Services

Pax Christi New Jersey

Pennsylvania Immigrant and Citizenship Coalition

Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center

People Power United

Physicians for Human Rights Student Advisory Board

Physicians for Human Rights at SUNY Downstate

Plymouth United Church of Christ, Oakland, CA

Poder Latinx

The Porchlight Collective SAP

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts

Public Counsel

Rights Behind Bars

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network

San Fernando Valley Indivisible

Sanctuary Committee — Congregation Beth El, Sudbury, MA 01776

Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment

Social Workers & Allies Against Solitary Confinement


S.O.L.A.C.E in San Diego

SPLC Action Fund

Strength and Serenity MGH Initiative to End Gender-Based Violence

Survivors of Torture International

Tahirih Justice Center


Texas Civil Rights Project

Trans Queer Pueblo – Semilla de Liberación

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic

Unlock the Box Campaign

UB Human Rights Initiative

UU Mass Action

Vera Institute of Justice

Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations

Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy

Washington Immigration Defense Group

Washington Office on Latin America

Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club

Win Without War

Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center

Women’s Refugee Commission

Yale Center for Asylum Medicine

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

#HALTsolitary Campaign

CC: Ms. Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Officer for DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL)