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Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program publishes critique of US migrant family separation

Nov 28 2018

Stanford Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program affiliates Ryan Matlow, Ph.D., and Daryn Reicherter, M.D., recently wrote a perspective piece in The New England Journal of Medicine on the United States’ migrant family separation proposal.

In September, The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposal to establish new regulations to replace the existing standards of care for noncitizen children. In their piece, “Reducing Protections for Noncitizen Children — Exacerbating Harm and Trauma,” Matlow and Reicherter state that children and families are harmed by deterrence efforts that result in the denial of basic human rights.

They argue the indefinite detention of children and families is itself a form of trauma, likely to have lasting negative mental health impacts. They cite the lack of agency and loss of control when detained migrants do not know if or when they will be released. Children can experience detrimental effects on their development due to the separation from trusted adults who can ensure safety and emotional regulation. They conclude that “this proposal presents a grave and urgent risk to the health and well-being of noncitizen children and their families.”

They recommend discontinuing family detention and separation practices and providing age-appropriate educational services. They also endorse housing families together in community settings or providing them with the agency to determine their residence during immigration proceedings, among other suggestions.