March 03, 2020
U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and ten other colleagues in decrying the reported practice of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) sharing the confidential therapy notes of unaccompanied immigrant children in its custody with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who then uses the information against the minors in removal proceedings. At a recent Senate hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged that the practice had occurred and called it a “mistake” that “going forward…shouldn’t be happening.” In a recent Washington Post story, it was reported that ICE used the information of one child’s self-disclosed trauma to advocate for his continued detention and deportation.
Other Senators signing the letter include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
“ORR’s practice of sharing confidential psychotherapy information undermines its missions and violates the rights of minors under its custody and care,” write the Senators in their letter to ORR Director Jonathan Hayes. “At the very least, minors in ORR’s custody should be provided notice that these communications lack confidentiality, and ORR therapists must stop falsely assuring immigrant children that their therapy sessions will remain confidential…It is difficult to believe that the practice of sharing psychotherapy notes with ICE is somehow in the best interests of a child in ORR’s custody.”
A copy of the letter can be found HERE.
In their letter, the Senators ask ORR to respond to questions that include:
- Has the ORR halted the practice of sharing information from confidential psychotherapy notices with ICE?
- What steps has ORR taken to train staff and contractors on avoiding inappropriate sharing of confidential psychotherapy notes?
- Does ORR provide any notice to unaccompanied minors in its custody that they have no expectation of privacy or confidentiality in any information provide to staff at ORR facilities, including licensed mental health care providers?
- What procedures, if any, does ORR have in place to obtain a minor’s consent to share information disclosed as part of their mental health care?
- Do state-licensed mental health providers at ORR facilities comply with state laws that afford confidentiality to interactions between licensed mental health care workers and their patients?
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