The first session with a therapist always begins the same. The therapist informs the patient that everything that is expressed is confidential, except if the patient discloses intent to self-harm or harm others. Everything else remains private. That is the ethical promise between therapist and patient. However, when it concerns detained migrants, the Trump administration has thrown those ethics out the window.
An investigative report by The Washington Post reveals that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have taken ownership of private notes between therapists and detained migrants and used it against them in a court of law.
The story centers around a 19-year-old named Kevin Euceda, who, in 2017, fled Honduras seeking asylum because of gang persecution back home. At 17, he was detained and began seeing a therapist. While therapy is a regular part of the rehabilitation process for detained children, the sharing of private information only became apparent after Donald Trump became president.
The sharing of confidential therapy notes of traumatized children destroys the vital bond of trust between patient and therapist. Weaponizing therapy sessions is appalling and we call on the Office of Refugee Resettlement to stop this practice immediately. https://t.co/KqgZj1zkNE
— American Psychological Association (@APA) February 18, 2020
Post reporter Hannah Dreier told NPR that “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.”
Aside from the unethical aspect of ICE retaining confidential information between therapists and patients, is that at least according to the story, the therapists didn’t know their notes would be used against the patients in court. Furthermore, the patients didn’t know the private details about their lives would be used against them during their asylum hearings.
The American Psychological Association released a statement saying that “The sharing of confidential therapy notes of traumatized children destroys the vital bond of trust between patient and therapist. Weaponizing therapy sessions is appalling, and we call on the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to stop this practice immediately.”
APA President Sandra L. Shullman, Ph.D. said that they also demand “ICE to release any immigrants who have had their asylum requests denied as a result.”
As for Kevin, the teen at the center of the Post story whose private information was used against him, he remains detained even though a judge had ruled that he should be released with asylum. ICE continues to appeal their case against him and seeking that he is deported back to Honduras.