ResourcesPress Release

Doctors: Stop Detaining Children and Separating Families

Physicians for Human Rights mobilizes doctors, medical students in front of White House to oppose the U.S. administration’s detention policies at the U.S. southern border.

WASHINGTON – Today, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) convened medical professionals and medical students in front of the White House to oppose the harmful detention of families and children at the U.S. southern border. PHR mobilized its network of medical clinicians to elevate awareness of the humanitarian health crisis at the U.S. southern border and demand sufficient medical care for migrants in U.S. government care. PHR is urging the U.S. government to end the detention of children and the separation of families, and to implement policies that allow migrants at the border to access their legal right to seek asylum.

Photos courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights capturing today’s gathering can be found here and are available for media use.

Tuesday morning, PHR delivered a letter to the Department of Homeland Security. Signed by more than 60,000 people, the letter demands justice for children at the U.S. Southern border and calls on the U.S. administration to end the detention and separation of children.

“Over the years, I have had the privilege of evaluating scores of asylum seekers. All of the asylum seekers have something in common – they were seeking to escape something unimaginable and build a better life,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, a member of PHR’s Asylum Network and medical expert consultant to PHR’s program on sexual violence in conflict, who spoke at today’s rally. “Today, asylum seekers in the United States are being held in shocking conditions, in unlicensed, filthy, overcrowded facilities. They are being treated with an appalling lack of humanity. To that we say, enough is enough. Mr. President, no child belongs in detention. No child should be taken from their parents. America implores you to close these facilities and reunite these children with their families.”

On Monday, The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security published a joint Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register which will further limit eligibility for asylum. The new third-country asylum rule, combined with the Trump administration’s recent efforts to designate Guatemala and Mexico as “safe third countries,” which they are not, will have harmful impacts on people trying to seek asylum protection in the United States as they flee violence in the Northern Triangle countries.

“Forcing asylum seekers to apply for asylum in third countries poses additional dangers by delaying their efforts to seek safe haven – and is antithetical to federal laws passed to ensure asylum seekers aren’t being forced to return to dangerous places,” said Michael Payne, advocacy officer at PHR. “With these barriers, the administration seeks to restrict and intimidate asylum seekers desperately in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, adequate medical care, efficient processing, and safe haven from the trauma of gross human rights abuses.”

As the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border has become increasingly severe, PHR has organized delegations of medical clinicians at the border to interview children, families, and other asylum seekers as part of its Asylum Network’s work to evaluate the medical and psychological conditions of asylum seekers. PHR has documented the medical and psychological trauma caused as a direct result of U.S. migrant detention policies. PHR’s findings make clear that it’s beyond time for the U.S. administration to end all policies that lead to the detention of children and separation of families.

“The medical community has been watching this disaster unfold at the border. But today, we are saying enough is enough. Mr. President, separating children from their families is wrong. Putting children in cages is wrong. Depriving children of soap and tooth brushes is wrong,” said Dr. John Abraham, a member of PHR’s Asylum Network and an emergency medical physician, at Tuesday’s rally. “Children belong with their families, with their communities. Children belong in school, not cages. As doctors, we say enough is enough. Mr. President, shut these camps down.”

Added Meredith Peck, co-chair of the PHR medical student advisory board and 4th-year medical student at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, who spoke at Tuesday’s rally, “Research from Physicians for Human Rights shows that asylum seekers are already living with trauma. Many have had their lives and the lives of their families threatened. They live with the physical and psychological scars of having fled areas of extreme violence. These asylum seekers require medical attention, and instead, their basic needs aren’t even being met.”

* Photos courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights capturing today’s gathering can be found here and are available for media use. Speakers and PHR experts are available for interview.*

Additional Background on PHR’s Asylum Work:

In June, PHR released two groundbreaking reports on 1) the medical and mental health impacts of exposure to trauma in children seeking asylum; and 2) how U.S. immigration enforcement is impacting patients in health facilities across the United States. Both reports speak to policy implications and the need for policy solutions, and include detailed recommendations for the U.S. government and other parties.

PHR worked with the Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights to produce its report, “There is No One Here to Protect You: Trauma Among Children Fleeing Violence in Central America,” which presents the first case series of child and adolescent asylum seekers arriving in the United States. The report cites physical and sexual violence by gangs and family members against children in their home countries, as well as compounding trauma in transit to the United States and in U.S. immigration detention.

PHR’s policy brief “Not in My Exam Room,” documents discriminatory practices by U.S. immigration enforcement that have led to egregious health care violations, including impeding patient care and neglect of medical advice. The brief documents widening racial and ethnic health disparities as a result of harsh immigration enforcement actions within the militarized border zone, which are violating patient rights and putting the health care of patients and the ethical obligations of medical professionals at risk.

PHR has repeatedly called on the U.S. administration to guarantee the basic health of individuals in its custody and provide adequate medical treatment of children affected by trauma in regard to both physical and mental health. PHR urges President Trump to respect the laws passed by Congress and to protect people’s legal right to seek asylum as well as the human rights and dignity of asylum seekers as fundamental to democracy.

PHR Resources on Asylum and the U.S. Border
Report: “There is No One Here to Protect You,” June 10, 2019
o Press Release: “Asylum-Seeking Children from Northern Triangle Suffer Multi-Dimensional, Recurrent, Sustained Trauma,” June 10, 2019
Policy Brief: “Not in My Exam Room,” June 10, 2019
o Press Release: “U.S. Immigration Enforcement Practices Violate Patient Rights and Medical Ethics,” June 10, 2019
o Fact Sheet: “Establishing Sanctuary Hospitals: Protecting the Right to Access Health Care,” June 10, 2019
Fact Sheet: “Health Risks of Customs and Border Protection Detention,” July 2019

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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