Last night, Government Accountability Project whistleblowers Drs. Scott Allen and Pamela McPherson, contractors with the Department of Homeland Security, spoke to the American public for the first time about the harms the Trump Administration’s policies of family separation and child detention are causing children in an explosive interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes. The doctors had privately reported their concerns with child and family detention in a July 17 letter to the U. S. Senate.
Drs. Allen and McPherson joined with Government Accountability Project to expose the truth about the foreseeable harm to children posed by detention after the Trump administration implemented its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in both separating children from their families as well as expanding the numbers of families in detention. Despite powerful evidence, President Trump denied responsibility for these policies in a tweet responding to the 60 Minutes piece.
According to Drs. Allen and McPherson, both family separation and child detention cause foreseeable harm to children. Drs. Allen and McPherson are medical and psychiatric experts within DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) who have conducted 10 investigations at family detention facilities over the past four years, including at the Karnes and Dilley detention centers in Texas, the Berks detention center in Pennsylvania, and the now-closed Artesia facility.
During their investigations, the doctors became aware of multiple threats to the health and safety of children. For example, numerous children were given adult doses of vaccines due to inadequately trained staff and poor coordination between government agencies. In another facility, which was formerly a medium security prison, the doctors also found multiple, severe finger injuries, including lacerations and fractures, caused by spring-loaded heavy doors closing on children’s hands. In addition, poorly converted residential and medical spaces and understaffing of medical professionals (especially pediatricians, mental health clinicians, and trauma specialists), continue to threaten the health and safety of children and families detained by DHS. In addition to condemning the current conditions in child and family detention centers, the doctors also denounce all forms of child detention. As Drs. Allen and McPherson wrote to the Senate Whistleblowing Caucus, “there is no amount of programming that can ameliorate the harms created by the very act of confining children in detention centers.”
More than 14 health professional societies have backed Drs. Allen and McPherson and denounced the practice of detaining children at DHS facilities, including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Psychiatric Association (APA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and American College of Physicians (ACP), and have called for congressional inquiry into “possible medical neglect and child endangerment” described by Drs. Allen’s and McPherson’s reports. The practice of family detention has been widely criticized by the medical community, including the AMA, ACP, and the AAP, as well as by the DHS’s own Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers.
Drs. Allen and McPherson’s legal counsel, Dana Gold, stated,
“As Drs. Allen and McPherson shared in their interview, child detention seriously threatens children’s health and safety. Their brave choice to blow the whistle on this dangerous policy illustrates the importance of whistleblowing in keeping the government accountable to the people. No child deserves to be confined, separated from their family, or to have their health and safety threatened. The Trump Administration must heed Dr. Allen, Dr. McPherson, and the rest of the medical community’s warning, and end this dangerous practice.”
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