LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA — Today, Freedom for Immigrants published a report that documents the harrowing effects of immigration detention on mental health, emphasizing that this is not a recent phenomenon that has arisen under the Trump administration, nor one unique to the particularly inhumane conditions of detention in the United States.
In its report, Immigration Detention is Psychological Torture: Strategies for Surviving Our Fight for Freedom, Freedom for Immigrants documents nearly 2,000 instances of emotional distress caused or exacerbated by the isolation inherent in the U.S. immigration detention system. Examples of these psychological, and sometimes physical, assaults include an inability to connect with family or attorneys, transfers away from communities of support, solitary confinement, extreme temperatures, attacks on religious practices, and other forms of abuse by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
“While immigration detention itself may not traditionally be understood as a form of torture, the deliberate clustering of these assaults – often over a prolonged period of time – amounts to a system that is psychologically torturous,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director and co-founder of Freedom for Immigrants. “Through our extensive research we are putting this systematic abuse on display and calling for an end to detention.”
Freedom for Immigrants’ report builds on a growing body of literature and activism, including a recent protest in our nation’s capital organized by a group of physicians and healthcare workers who also are calling for an end to immigration detention. This report is being released at a critical moment in our nation’s history. As the Trump administration continues its attacks on avenues for release, including bond and parole, more people are detained for longer periods of time. Recent expansion of ICE detention is concentrated in extremely isolated rural facilities with track records of abuse. Given the backlog in immigration court, individuals denied release face lengthy periods of detention with no set end date in terrible conditions.
Last week, Roylan Hernandez Diaz, a 43-year-old asylum seeker from Cuba, died of an apparent suicide at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana. According to his widow, Mr. Hernandez Diaz died after being placed in punitive solitary confinement in retaliation for starting a hunger strike. Mr. Diaz’s experiences in detention are not abnormal. All survey participants in Freedom for Immigrants report explained that they felt stress while in immigration detention. In one anonymous survey, a woman from Mexico detained at Yuba County Jail shared that “some of the officers here are very abusive. My mental and physical disabilities have increased […] It’s cruel, inhumane, degrading. I’m without physical activities. I’m mistreated, afflicted, confused, grieved, defiled, overwhelmed, persecuted. I have no strength. I’m crushed continually. I feel myself in darkness.”
“The purpose of immigration detention is to indefinitely cage people in intolerable conditions and isolate them from their loved ones with the goal of forcing them to give up hope and stop fighting their cases,” said Rebecca Merton, Director of Visitation and Independent Monitoring at Freedom for Immigrants. “The public has lifted up an alternative vision in which individuals live with their families and communities, instead of being caged by an agency that has an incentive to neglect and abuse their human rights.”
“As soon as I was detained, I experienced the horror that private detention companies perpetrate and my mental health has suffered for it ever since,” Gretta Soto Moreno, a member of Freedom for Immigrants’ Leadership Council and trans rights activist. “Loneliness and injustice brought me to the brink of suicide multiple times. I felt as if there was no hope for almost three years. My American dream was a nightmare until I finally got my freedom and because of that, I have stayed alive and hopeful.”
While the movement continues to fight for the end goal of abolition, Freedom for Immigrants strives to provide as much mental health support as possible to those who are currently suffering. Therefore, the organization is undertaking three initiatives to contribute to the strength and solidarity of everyone in the struggle for freedom: hotline advocates specifically trained in listening, health, and human services; solidarity news; and mutual support groups.