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.”
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.