On July 17, Dr. Pamela McPherson and Dr. Scott Allen, who serve as subject matter experts for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, made the brave decision to blow the whistle on the government’s child detention practices. In their letter to the Senate’s Whistleblowing Caucus, Dr. McPherson and Dr. Allen described cases in which children experienced severe weight loss, accidental vaccinations with adult doses, and dangerously slow medical attention. In an act of professional solidarity, highlighting the severity of the situation, 14 medical and mental health provider organizations signed a letter on Tuesday urging the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to hold oversight hearings regarding the “quality of care and treatment [families] are receiving” while they are detained.
The signing organizations represent various disciplines and medical care providers, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Pediatric Association. The letter, which was sent to members of both the House and the Senate, references a study which found that both children and parents “may suffer negative physical and emotional symptoms from detention, including anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.” Referencing Dr. McPherson and Dr. Allen’s initial letter, the medical organizations described their report as evidence of “possible medical neglect and child endangerment.”
Although the Trump Administration eventually reversed its position on family separations by signing an executive order to keep families together in federal custody as they await trial, the medical concerns over child detention remain even more relevant since the “zero tolerance” policy continues to greatly expand detentions. In addition, despite a federal judge’s ruling that all children and parents who were separated at the border had to be reunited within 30 days, a deadline which passed Thursday, as many as 711 children remain separated from their parents.
In their initial letter, Dr. McPherson and Dr. Allen wrote, “there is no amount of programming that can ameliorate the harms created by the very act of confining children to detention centers.” After multiple reports of abuse against detained children and adults, various investigations have begun regarding safety and health related issues at detention centers. Nonetheless, these detention centers are becoming even more crowded and new ones are in the works. Congress, meanwhile, has yet to take any action. Regardless of how many children’s lives are in danger, politicians have made clear that they are unwilling to take a stand against these injustices. Whistleblowers were able to shed light into the gross negligence taking place at the DHS, but now citizen activists must act.
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