December 21, 2021

 Years After DHS Medical Experts Blew the Whistle, A Small Step Forward for Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON— Government Accountability Project welcomes reporting that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is no longer detaining migrant families in three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Since 2014, thousands of families have been held in these “family residential centers” (FRCs) in substandard conditions for weeks or months as they fight the first stages of their immigration cases. This decision to stop detaining families en masse at the FRCs is long overdue given the well-documented harmful effects of detention on children.

Government Accountability Project clients Drs. Scott Allen and Pamela McPherson, the medical and mental health subject matter experts for DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) who conducted multiple inspections of FRCs, raised concerns internally for several years about the grave risks of harm to children at these facilities. In 2018, in response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, they escalated their concerns about systemic failures of ICE’s FRCs to Congress and went public later that year on 60 Minutes, warning that FRCs as well as border facilities could not meet minimum standards of medical and mental health care for the hundreds of immigrant children in custody, some of whom had already died.

Drs. Allen and McPherson renewed these concerns with the Biden administration in 2020, and in another disclosure to Congress in May 2021 called again for an end to child detention. They specifically decried the “perverse impact” of the Title 42 policy, which results in “the perhaps unintended, but wholly predictable, consequence of creating a churn of children who will be foreseeably held in detention.” Other whistleblowers represented by Government Accountability Project have exposed neglectful conditions and gross mismanagement at the Department of Health and Human Services run Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site (EIS) and others that house unaccompanied children in even worse conditions than at the FRCs run by ICE and its contractors. Title 42 remains in place today.

Government Accountability Project’s Senior Counsel Dana Gold, legal counsel for both Drs. Allen and McPherson, said:

“The decision to end detention of immigrant families at FRCs is a significant humanitarian victory and a reversal of the Trump administration’s stated intent to deter immigration by knowingly subjecting families and children to harm. However, while the Biden administration may lack ill intent, many of its policies and practices still result in harm to immigrant children in detention. We urge the administration to not only end the current use of FRCs, but to heed the warnings of whistleblowers and permanently end the harmful practice of detaining children, no matter the stage of the immigration process or which agency is involved.”


Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email:[email protected]
Phone: 202.926.3304

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.