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“Part of my heart was torn away”: What the U.S. Government Owes the Tortured Survivors of Family Separation

April 19, 2022

When the news broke in 2018 that the U.S. government was forcibly separating thousands of parents and children as young as infants at the U.S.-Mexico border, nationwide outcry ensued due to the evident trauma caused by the separations. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) found that the cases of forcible family separation by the U.S. government that we documented constituted torture. PHR's torture finding was cited by the Biden campaign during the 2020 U.S. presidential election. However, as the election passed, uproar and outrage around family separation abated, but parents and children who were eventually reunited struggle to recover from severe psychological effects of the trauma they endured. Parents who were deported and separated from their children for three or even four years continued to suffer and wait in desperation for the moment when they could be with their children again.This study documents the longer-term psychological impact of this inhumane policy of forced separation on parents who were deported by the United States government, most of them separated from their children for three to four years. The persistent and damaging psychological effects documented by PHR call out for acknowledgement, accountability, redress, and rehabilitation. This study also seeks to make visible the desires of the parents who were interviewed regarding means of redress owed to them by the U.S. government. In the context of a broad discussion about redress, it is essential that the views of affected communities be directly incorporated into research and policy recommendations.

The psychological effects of forced family separation on asylum-seeking children and parents at the US-Mexico border: A qualitative analysis of medico-legal documents

November 24, 2021

The U.S. government forcibly separated more than 5,000 children from their parents between 2017 and 2018 through its "Zero Tolerance" policy. It is unknown how many of the children have since been reunited with their parents. As of August 1, 2021, however, at least 1,841 children are still separated from their parents. This study systematically examined narratives obtained as part of a medico-legal process by trained clinical experts who interviewed and evaluated parents and children who had been forcibly separated. The data analysis demonstrated that 1) parents and children shared similar pre-migration traumas and the event of forced family separation in the U.S.; 2) they reported signs and symptoms of trauma following reunification; 3) almost all individuals met criteria for DSM diagnoses, even after reunification; 4) evaluating clinicians consistently concluded that mental health treatment was indicated for both parents and children; and 5) signs of malingering were absent in all cases.

Behind Closed Doors: Abuse and Retaliation Against Hunger Strikers in U.S. Immigration Detention

June 23, 2021

The decision to begin a hunger strike in immigration detention is not taken lightly. A detained person's refusal to eat may be the last option available to voice complaint, after all other methods of petition have failed. Detained and imprisoned people worldwide have engaged in hunger strikes to plead for humane conditions of confinement or release from captivity and to bring attention to broader calls for justice.Each day, the United States government unnecessarily locks up thousands of people in civil immigration detention, including children, in over two hundred immigration detention centers around the country.People may be locked up for many months — even years — as they await final adjudication of their cases or deportation. Trapped in a system marked by mistreatment and abuse, medical neglect, and the denial of due process, hundreds of people in immigration detention engage in hunger strikes as a means of protest each year. ICE's failure to provide safe and humane conditions in detention during the COVID-19 pandemic has only raised the stakes for detained people. Although some detained people, on occasion, are able to bring outside attention to their hunger strikes, very little is known of ICE's systemic response to hunger striking detainees.This report provides for the first time an in-depth, nationwide examination of what happens to people who engage in hunger strikes while detained by ICE.