Bill Would End Practice Of Using Confidential Therapy Notes Against Detained Immigrant Children

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Seeking to end a practice that one senator called a “profound betrayal of trust,” legislation was introduced Wednesday in the Senate and House of Representatives to stop the Trump administration from using confidential therapy notes against immigrant children in detention and deportation proceedings. The legislation is one of several efforts underway to protect the confidentiality of young asylum seekers launched after The Washington Post reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been regularly using notes from therapy sessions against unaccompanied minors, often without the consent of the therapists involved, and always without the consent of the minors themselves.

The Post story focused on the saga of Kevin Euceda, a Honduran who was 17 when he arrived in the United States in 2017 and was placed in a shelter for immigrant children. In a required meeting with a therapist, he disclosed that he had been forcibly recruited into a gang when he was 12 years old. He thought the session was confidential, but his words were soon shared with ICE and have been used in repeated court hearings to argue for his detention and deportation. He has been detained for nearly three years. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the agency in charge of immigrant-child shelters, said what happened to Euceda “shouldn’t be happening” going forward, even as ICE took a step that will keep Euceda in detention indefinitely.

Professional mental-health organizations demanded an immediate stop to the information sharing after it was brought to light. Last week, 41 national organizations signed a joint letter to Congress calling for oversight hearings on the practice, which is part of the Trump administration’s stepped-up immigration enforcement strategy. The American Psychological Association said the practice constituted an “appalling” breach of privacy, and wrote to HHS and ICE calling it “a violation of broadly accepted mental health ethical standards.” The National Association of Social Workers said it was “an affront to this country’s basic principles” of civil rights protections. The American Counseling Association warned that therapists risk their licenses by participating in “an abhorrent violation” of confidentiality. The American Academy of Pediatrics also denounced it.

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