ICE and Isolation: A Portrait of Torture in Immigration Detention

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The Intercept
Published at : 30 Nov 2020
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As Efraín Romero de la Rosa paced back and forth in his solitary confinement cell, he would sometimes weep. He often passed the time by glancing through the small window at the gray immigration jail unit — or by standing on the rim of his cell’s chrome toilet, only to step back down again. Step up, step down. Step up, step down.

The U.N. special rapporteur on torture found that “solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture” and called for a complete ban on its use, "for any duration,” on people with mental disabilities.

Confined to a 13-by-7-foot concrete cell for 23 hours a day, Romero — who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia — spent his final days battling the voices in his head. Nearing the end of his 21st day in in solitary, Romero killed himself in the tiny cell.

Romero was being held at the Stewart Detention Center in rural Georgia, one of the largest U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in the country. But ICE does not run the detention center: It is operated by the private prison company CoreCivic.

Cases of death in ICE custody are often shrouded in secrecy, with few details released to the public. But documents, video, and audio obtained by The Intercept and WNYC’s The Takeaway offer a rare look into the country’s opaque immigration detention system.

From the intake process to the disciplinary process — and even on the night he took his own life — the CoreCivic staff neglected to properly care for the man in their custody.

Relying on security camera footage and state investigators’ audio interviews with medical staff, correctional staff, and other men held in the same solitary confinement cell block, this film documents, in its entirety, the final 18 hours of Romero’s 21st day in solitary — his last day alive — as told by the people who witnessed and participated in the events firsthand.

The film provides a harrowing but necessary account of the stunning neglect and publicly funded torture that drove a 40-year-old Mexican immigrant with schizophrenia to suicide.

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