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Trump Administration has been Using Private Therapy Notes Against Detained Kids

The American Psychological Association expressed shock and outrage that the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement has been sharing confidential psychotherapy notes with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deny asylum to some immigrant youth.

credit: AFP/Getty Images // Daily Kos,

Trump Administration has been Using Private Therapy Notes Against Detained Kids - Gabe Ortiz (Daily Kos)
'Washington Post': Therapy Notes Are Being Used Against Migrant Children - Morning Edition (National Public Radio - NPR)
American Psychological Association Calls for Immediate Halt to Sharing Immigrant Youths' Confidential Psychotherapy Notes with ICE


Trump Administration has been Using Private Therapy Notes Against Detained Kids

By Gabe Ortiz

February 17, 2020
Daily Kos

Therapy should be a safe space, including for migrant children who have fled traumatic experiences in their home countries for the safety of the U.S., oftentimes making the dangerous journey completely alone. But in a testament to the Trump administration’s desire for mass deportation at any and all costs, The Washington Post reports that officials have been requiring some therapists who have met with detained kids to turn over their confidential session notes, which are then used as part of the government’s case in immigration court. In other words, the information kids gave in confidence is now being used against them to try to deport them.

“This kind of information sharing was part of a Trump administration strategy that is technically legal but which professional therapy associations say is a profound violation of patient confidentiality,” Hannah Dreier writes inThe Post. “Intimate confessions, early traumas, half-remembered nightmares—all have been turned into prosecutorial weapons, often without the consent of the therapists involved, and always without the consent of the minors themselves, in hearings where the stakes can be life and death.”

Among these young people detailed in the disturbing report is Kevin, who was 17 when he and his older sister fled Honduras in 2017. “Kevin explained that after his grandmother died, the gang MS-13 took over their shack,” Dreier continued. “With nowhere else to go, he stayed even as gang members tortured rivals on the patio, slept in his bed and made him run their errands. The gang eventually put him to work selling drugs.” But when the gang told Kevin to kill someone to prove his loyalty, he and his sister fled. “A stream of threatening text messages from the gang followed the siblings north.”

In custody under the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), where minors who come to the U.S. alone are transferred after arriving at the border, Kevin told all this to his government therapist. “For years, children have been required to meet with counselors within 72 hours of entering custody, and then at least once a week until their release,” Dreier writes. But because Kevin had mentioned the gang ties that he was forced into, a rule change implemented by a then-ORR head Scott Lloyd, a Trump pick, kicked into effect, which required “moving minors who self-disclosed gang ties to secure detention.”

If the name Scott Lloyd sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve read about this extremist before. This anti-abortion zealot spent part of his time heading ORR trying to block abortion access for undocumented teens, including instructing ORR “to make pregnant minors undergo invasive and unnecessary ultrasounds and visit anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers,” Daily Kos’ Sarah Hogg wrote in 2018. Lloyd was also single-handedly responsible for the prolonged detention of hundreds of kids, telling “subordinates last year that he’d have to personally sign off before any kids could be released from ORR’s secure facilities,” HuffPost reported that same year. Lloyd should have been fired, but he was instead transferred to a new gig.

It’s Lloyd’s rule about “self-disclosed gang ties” that was responsible for Kevin being transferred “in hand and leg shackles” to the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia, the same facility where a 2018 state investigation found that, yes, staff did strap teens to chairs and sometimes place bags over their heads as punishment, but none of it, investigators claimed, reached the threshold for abuse. “When he arrived,” The Post continued about Kevin’s transfer, “he was again put through an intake process that included meeting with a counselor named Andrew Mayles, who explained that based on his disclosures, ORR had identified him as someone who ‘engaged in violent or malicious behavior.’ Kevin remembers feeling stunned, like he had been tricked, and crying from frustration.”

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To make matters worse for Kevin, he turned 18 while at Shenandoah, which meant that he would be transferred to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, where adults are detained. By this time, his sister had already been deported back to Honduras, and ICE was intent on deporting him too, using the notes taken from his sessions, and even though he’s been certified as a victim of “severe human trafficking” while in ORR custody. But while an immigration judge ordered his release, ICE immediately appealed. Then, when the judge granted him asylum, ICE yet again appealed.

Now 19 and still in ICE custody, “Kevin began thinking that he might just give up and self-deport, even if it meant going back to a place he’d been followed out of by text messages saying if he ever returned he would be killed.” Cruelty upon cruelty upon cruelty, and it’s all happening because of our government, in our name, and to the reported ire of professionals: “Some shelter therapists say they are aware of the policy and take steps to protect children’s privacy by keeping two sets of clinical notes, or by leaving things out entirely.” Read Dreier’s entire report here.

[Gabe Ortiz is a staff writer at Daily Kos focusing on immigration, LGBT, Latino issues.]


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'Washington Post': Therapy Notes Are Being Used Against Migrant Children - Morning Edition

Heard on Morning Edition

February 18, 2020
National Public Radio (NPR)

NPR's Noel King talks to Washington Post reporter Hannah Dreier, whose investigation found that therapists are sharing their notes on detained migrant children with immigration officials.


Last year, the U.S. held a record number of migrant children in custody. While they fight to stay in this country, many of those kids will go to mandatory therapy sessions to help them deal with trauma. But what if the government could use those sessions and that trauma against them? Washington Post reporter Hannah Dreier has been investigating this. She wrote extensively about a 19-year-old named Kevin Euceda. He fled from Honduras in 2017.

HANNAH DREIER: Kevin was fleeing gangs in Honduras. He was orphaned when he was young, and gangs took over his house.

KING: So what did he do for them?

DREIER: He sold drugs for the gang, and he acted as a lookout. So he would tell the gang what was going on in the neighborhood. And when he was 17, the gang was going to ask him to kill someone. And so he fled. It took him three months, and he came to the U.S. and asked for asylum.

KING: And what happens to him once he gets to this country?

DREIER: So Kevin crossed on an inflatable raft. He was found by Border Patrol. And because he was 17, Border Patrol turned him over to an agency called the Office of Refugee Resettlement. And that's the agency that's responsible for every kid who comes to the U.S. alone or is separated from their family at the border. And he went through an intake process. And all through this process, people are telling him, you're safe now. You're in the U.S. We're here to help you. And the last part of that process was he was taken to talk to a therapist.

KING: Tell me about the therapist.

DREIER: So the therapist was young. She was still working on getting her clinical license. She spoke Spanish. And she told Kevin, this is your chance to tell us your story. We're going to help you. And nobody had ever said anything like that to Kevin before. He says it was the first time an adult had offered to help. And so he started to tell her everything. He told her about how his grandmother used to beat him. He told her about having to sell drugs for the gang. He told her about his decision to flee and how scared he was that the gang might be looking for him and that they might try to kill him if he returned to Honduras. And he left the session feeling lighter. He says it was really helpful to talk about some of that trauma for the first time.

KING: Was he talking to the therapist confidentially?

DREIER: The therapist said that everything would be confidential unless he talked about potential harm to himself or others, which is pretty much the standard confidentiality that you or I would have in a therapy session.

KING: But then at some point, Kevin learns that what he said in those private sessions with the counselor has been given to someone or to people. Who got the notes on Kevin's therapy sessions, on what he said in therapy?

DREIER: Kevin's notes ended up going through two federal agencies and were eventually passed to ICE.

KING: OK. So we have a 17-year-old who's sent to therapy, told it's confidential. This is all part of how things have always worked, right?

DREIER: That's right. The agency that oversees shelters for migrant children is a child welfare agency. So for two decades, children have been required to go to therapy. And that therapy has always been carried out with the mission of helping the kids adjust and dealing with the trauma that most kids have faced before they come to the U.S. So all that is normal.

KING: Why, then, were notes from Kevin's private therapy sessions sent to people at ICE?

DREIER: Well, in 2017, the Trump administration started really changing the mission of that therapy. There was a lot of fear that criminals and gang members might be coming across the border to do bad things in this country. And the agency responded. So therapists are now asked to find out whether kids have criminal history.

KING: Did the therapist who was working with Kevin - did she know that her notes on him were being sent to ICE?

DREIER: She says that she had no idea.

KING: So as a result of this policy shift, you have a 17-year-old boy who goes into therapy, admits a bunch of things, including that he was part of a gang, he was selling drugs for a gang and that he had participated in some amount of violence. How is that then used against him?

DREIER: Those notes were used against Kevin for the first time he had a court hearing. He thought that he would be released that day. And instead, what happened was the ICE attorney handed over a copy of the notes that therapist had taken to the judge and started cross-examining him on the notes. So she started saying, did you tell somebody that you sold drugs? Did you tell somebody that you witnessed violence? And he was shocked. His lawyers were shocked. As a result of those notes being filed in that way, he's been in detention now for 2 1/2 years.

KING: Is it legal for a therapist's private notes with a client to be shared with an agency like ICE?

DREIER: You know, professional organizations like the American Psychological Association say this is very unethical, but it is actually legal. And that's in part because the government is acting as the parent in this situation. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has custody of the children, so they can ask for the kids' records and share them as it sees fit.

KING: Have you met Kevin Euceda in person?

DREIER: I have, yeah.

KING: How's he doing?

DREIER: I mean, he's very alone. He's been in detention for almost three years now, and he's scared to talk to anybody around him. He doesn't feel like he can trust anyone.

KING: He's 19 years old now?

DREIER: He's 19. He's been granted release twice. He's been granted asylum. And he's also been certified as a human trafficking victim.

KING: Why is he still locked up then?

DREIER: Initially, it was just this one therapist report about what had happened in Honduras. But after he was transferred to this high-security detention center, he decided he wouldn't talk about his past anymore. He would just talk about his feelings day-to-day. That seemed safer. And so one day he said that he felt like he was going to explode. One day he said he'd thought about hitting a kid with a ball but went to calm down and didn't hit the kid. And those then also became part of his file, and ICE has used those disclosures also to argue that he's too dangerous to be let out.

KING: What happened to the young therapist, the one who saw Kevin in confidence and didn't realize that notes from their session were going to be shared with ICE?

DREIER: When my story came out, she learned what had happened to her notes, and she resigned.

KING: And why do you think that is?

DREIER: I have found that, in talking to therapists, many of them have been really shocked at what's going on with their notes. And I think they also feel betrayed. These notes were shared without their consent, as well. I think a lot of people are grappling with whether they can justify staying in the system, where kids need help, where kids have real trauma, even if it means that they have to make promises of confidentiality they can't really keep.

KING: Hannah Dreier is a national reporter for The Washington Post. Hannah, thank you so much for coming in.

DREIER: Thank you.

[NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.]

American Psychological Association Calls for Immediate Halt to Sharing Immigrant Youths' Confidential Psychotherapy Notes with ICE

February 17, 2020
American Psychological Association

Weaponizing therapy sessions ‘appalling,’ says APA president

The American Psychological Association expressed shock and outrage that the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement has been sharing confidential psychotherapy notes with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deny asylum to some immigrant youths.

“ORR’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,” said APA President Sandra L. Shullman, PhD. “We call on ORR to stop this practice immediately and on the Department of Health and Human Services and Congress to investigate its prevalence. We also call on ICE to release any immigrants who have had their asylum requests denied as a result.”

APA was reacting to a report in The Washington Post focused largely on the case of then-17-year-old Kevin Euceda, an asylum-seeker from Honduras whose request for asylum was granted by a judge, only to have it overturned when lawyers from ICE revealed information he had given in confidence to a therapist at a U.S. government shelter. According to the article, 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.

Unaccompanied minors who are detained in U.S. shelters are required to undergo therapy, ostensibly to help them deal with trauma and other issues arising from leaving their home countries. According to the Post, ORR entered into a formal memorandum of agreement with ICE in April 2018 to share details about children in its care. The then-head of ORR testified before Congress that the agency would be asking its therapists to “develop additional information” about children during “weekly counseling sessions where they may self-disclose previous gang or criminal activity to their assigned clinician,” the newspaper reported. The agency added two requirements to its public handbook: that arriving children be informed that while it was essential to be honest with staff, self-disclosures could affect their release and that if a minor mentioned anything having to do with gangs or drug dealing, therapists would file a report within four hours to be passed to ICE within one day, the Post said.

"For this administration to weaponize these therapy sessions by ordering that the psychotherapy notes be passed to ICE is appalling,” Shullman added. “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.”