Complaint to Department of Homeland Security Finds Families in Detention Centers Suffer from Psychological Harm

July 1, 2015

A contingent of immigrants rights groups, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), have filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, citing psychological harm to families in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The New York Times reports that the complaint, which was submitted to the agency’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, will call for the investigation of 10 cases in which detained women and children were found to have psychological issues such as anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. It will also ask for a thorough investigation of the effects detention has on families. Currently there are over 6,300 women and children being detained at 3 detention centers in the United States. Two centers are located in South Texas, and one in Pennsylvania–a fourth, located in New Mexico, was closed this past November.

According to Karen Lucas, the associate director of advocacy at AILA, “This policy [of detention] started so quickly last summer that no one has taken the time to investigate the psychological consequences, and that is a real failure on our government’s part.” Mental health professionals have noticed “regression behavior” in children, which has included attempts to breast feed by an 8-year-old girl, and 11 year-old boy who started to urinate in his bed. Other prevalent behavior included depression and increased aggression.

Many families, which fled their native countries in fear of abuse and violence, are now being forced to re-experience their trauma, due to “the fear, uncertainty, and lack of control” of life in detention centers.

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