July 20, 2020


DHS Experts Issue Warning as ICE Attempts to Reinstitute Family Separation 

Government Accountability Project Clients Urge Congress to Prevent Imminent Harm

WASHINGTON – Government Accountability Project clients Drs. Scott Allen, Pamela McPherson, and Josiah ‘Jody’ Rich, medical and mental health experts for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (DHS CRCL), sent a letter last week to Congress urging them to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement  (ICE) from separating immigrant children from their families under the guise of a federal court order. The doctors warned that separating children from their families will exacerbate the physical and mental trauma already experienced by children in detention, as well as that of detained families who know they are unable to protect themselves from the deadly, rapidly spreading pandemic.

Drs. Allen, McPherson, and Rich have spoken out against DHS detention practices on two separate occasions. In 2018, Drs. Allen and McPherson disclosed their concerns to DHS, Congress, and the public about the permanent, avoidable physical and mental trauma that family detention and separation have on children. In March of 2020, Drs. Allen and Rich expressed concerns that the rapid spread and severe infection rates of COVID-19 make ICE detention facilities a “tinderbox scenario,” significantly increasing the risk to immigrants, workers, and the public. 

According to a federal court order, ICE must release children in detention settings by July 27 (a 10-day extension from the originally ordered release); litigation seeking to ensure that children are not separated from their families is ongoing. Drs. Allen, McPherson, and Rich felt compelled as DHS’s own experts and consistent with their professional duty to speak out to attempt to mitigate the foreseeable, preventable, threat of harm to children if separation from their families occurs. In addition to raising the alarm internally to DHS and Congress, they explained the problem today in this USA Today Op-Ed, noting:

The detention of families with minor children is unjustifiable. Children do not belong in locked detention facilities because of the documented and unavoidable medical and psychological risks. The pandemic has exponentially increased the dangers and risks associated with this detention policy [….] This unimaginable — and intentional — cruelty must stop. It’s well past time to end the detention of immigrant families. Another round of family separation is not the answer. Release all children with their parents.”

Drs. Allen, McPherson, and Rich call for the immediate release of immigrant detainees who present no threat to communities to prevent both damage caused by family and children separation and the spread of COVID-19. In their professional opinion, the medical and mental health risks posed by detention and the risk of community spread by COVID-19 in congregate settings necessitates a proactive approach to limit harm to immigrants, detention workers, and the public.

Dana Gold, Senior Counsel for Government Accountability Project and attorney for Drs. Allen, McPherson, and Rich, commented:

“It is unconscionable that ICE would even consider separating children from their families with complete disregard for the serious medical and mental health issues such separation would inflict. This practice is indefensible, immoral, dangerous, and simply cruel. The fact that DHS’s own medical experts need to speak out to ask Congress to intervene reflects a degree of politicization driving ICE decisionmaking that is wholly untethered from the consideration of science or humanity.” 

Contact: Andrew Harman, Director of Communications
Phone: (202) 457-0034 x156

Government Accountability Project

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.