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NASW demands Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) cease sharing immigrant youth psychotherapy notes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is outraged that the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is sharing confidential psychotherapy notes with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – a practice that has been used to deny asylum to some immigrant youths.

Unaccompanied minors who are detained in U.S. shelters are required to meet with a therapist within 72 hours of entering custody and at least weekly until their release. It is unacceptable to use these notes to deny these youth asylum.

The public was made aware of this policy by a report in The Washington Post that focused largely on the case of a 17-year-old Honduran youth who was seeking asylum from the violence in his home country. His initial request for asylum was granted by an immigration judge. Indeed, he had been certified as a victim of severe human trafficking.

However, the judge’s decision was overturned when ICE appealed this decision, based on access they had been given to the young man’s therapy notes. The therapy notes, which reflect information he had given in confidence to a therapist at a U.S. government shelter, suggested that the youth had been involved in gang activities in Honduras. According to the article, other unaccompanied migrant children have been similarly held in detention based on information that ICE had obtained by accessing supposedly confidential psychotherapy notes.

"ORR’s sharing of confidential therapy notes of unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum without their knowledge or permission is an affront to this country’s basic principles of protecting the civil rights of all people," said NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. "Additionally, this policy destroys the bond of trust between client and therapist that is essential for helping these young people cope with the trauma that they faced in their country of origin"

NASW insists that ORR immediately discontinue this information sharing practice. We also implore the Department of Health Human Services (HHS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Congress to investigate the origin of the policy requiring the sharing of therapy notes and determine potential harmful impacts of the policy on unaccompanied migrant children. Finally, and most importantly, ICE must release any immigrants who have had their asylum requests denied as a result of the practice.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.