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Solitary amendment passes Senate

Posted: May 22, 2013 | Tags: immigration

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amendment Monday to the  844-page immigration bill that would both better define and limit the use of solitary confinement at immigration detention centers. The changes cover those held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) centers and other facilities around the country under contract with the government.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was one of many to the bipartisan bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. The committee voted 13-5 Tuesday to send the sweeping bill to the full Senate, and debate is expected to begin in June.

“We are grateful to those senators who are living up to their commitments to pass an inclusive immigration bill that respects human rights,” said Royce Bernstein Murray, director of policy at the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. “They have faced down several extreme and harsh anti-immigrant amendments — their success is a hopeful sign that the Senate is serious about passing an immigration law that keeps families together and upholds basic American principles of justice.”

The amendment limits the use of solitary confinement in adults and bans it for children younger than 18 and those with mental illness except in situations deemed as emergencies or threats. The amendment also requires that the reason for and duration of solitary at such centers be compiled and submitted annually to Congress. 

The Investigative Reporting Workshop and The New York Times recently examined the use of solitary confinement around the country. We reported that on any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities that make up the sprawling patchwork of holding centers nationwide overseen by ICE officials, according to new federal data.

Nearly half of these immigrants are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days.

Catherine Rentz contributed to this report.

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