The president of the American Psychological Association has condemned the Trump administration’s “weaponizing” of confidential therapy session notes against detained migrant children in U.S. immigration court, saying in a statement that the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s “sharing of confidential therapy notes of traumatized children destroys the bond of trust between patient and therapist that is vital to helping the patient.”
“We call on ORR to stop this practice immediately and on the Department of Health and Human Services and Congress to investigate its prevalence,” APA president Sandra Shullman, PhD., continued in the statement. “We also call on ICE to release any immigrants who have had their asylum requests denied as a result.”
A horrific report from Hannah Dreier in The Washington Post revealed that the confidential information that kids in ORR custody had given to their therapists has been used against them in immigration court, including in efforts to deny them asylum and deport them. This can’t be legal, right? Deeply unethical, but “technically legal,” an official claimed to The Post : “ORR acts in the role of legal guardian for children in its custody, as de facto parents, with the right to see children’s records and share them as it sees fit.”
Among the young people targeted was Kevin, who was 17 when he fled Honduras with his sister after a gang forced him into membership and then tried to make him kill someone to prove his loyalty. But because Kevin self-disclosed his (forced) gang tie during his therapy sessions, that information was shared with ICE under government policy. “According to the article,” the APA said, “other unaccompanied minors have been similarly detained as a result of ICE’s use of confidential psychotherapy notes. These situations have also been confirmed by congressional testimony since 2018.”
Kevin thought he was sharing his traumatic experiences with his therapist in confidence—he “felt relieved after talking with her,” The Post continued, and “walked out of the session feeling lighter for having shared some of his most shameful secrets”—but instead ICE lawyers literally pulled out his notes in immigration court in front of him to use against him, first appealing his ordered release from detention, and then appealing his successful asylum ruling. Kevin, now 19, is still detained and has contemplated giving up and agreeing to self-deport.
None of this is okay, but it’s on par with this administration’s official policy of state-sanctioned child abuse, from family separation at the border, to inhumane conditions in federal detention facilities, to the blatant disregard of children’s deaths after being taken into U.S. custody, and now to this weaponizing of this most personal and confidential interaction. It must be noted that when it comes to separated kids, the administration has fought tooth and nail to deny them mental health services to deal with the damage inflicted on them. So even when the government is obligated to provide a therapist to kids, like those in ORR custody, they still find a way to harm them.
"For this administration to weaponize these therapy sessions by ordering that the psychotherapy notes be passed to ICE is appalling,” Shullman continued in the statement. “These children have already experienced some unimaginable traumas. Plus, these are scared minors who may not understand that speaking truthfully to therapists about gangs and drugs—possibly the reasons they left home—would be used against them.”