Vox, June 19, 2018
Ella Nilsen


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Undocumented kids in custody at the border think they’re getting help when they talk with a social worker or clinical psychologist, but what they say is often used to keep them in detention longer or even deport them, lawyers who work with these children say.

“They’ll encourage the kids to open up and disclose, but those notes are not protected by HIPAA or privacy law,” said Nithya Nathan, an attorney and senior program director for the Detained Children’s Program. “It’s our experience [kids] have a really limited understanding of where that information goes and how it can be used.”

Doctors and social workers have long provided care to undocumented kids held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency responsible for resettling minors who cross the border, including those seeking asylum. The appointments appear to be just like any other between a medical provider and a patient, but under the Trump administration, the US Department of Homeland Security is increasingly relying on medical and psychological records from these meetings to make decisions about the fate of these kids, numerous immigration lawyers who represent undocumented children told Vox.

Immigration lawyers said files containing confidential medical and psychological records and social work case files from ORR (an office overseen by the US Department of Health and Human Services) are increasingly showing up in immigration court as evidence.

Often, these files are used by the Trump administration as an argument to push undocumented kids, especially teens with psychiatric conditions, into higher levels of detention in what lawyers described as “jail-like” settings.

Immigration lawyers also told Vox that children are sometimes deported back to their home countries on the basis of this information. [...]

bioethics children's health immigration mental health race