AILA Public Statements, Advocacy & Media

Traumatizing Impact of Family Detention on Mental Health of Children and Mothers

6/30/15 AILA Doc. No. 15062534. Detention & Bond, Removal & Relief

The psychological harm caused when mothers and children seeking asylum in the U.S. are detained in jail-like facilities is the subject of a complaint filed today with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Women's Refugee Commission, and the American Immigration Council. The complaint includes details of the harsh and detrimental impact of detention on ten case examples of mothers and children documented by mental health professionals after in-depth evaluations. CRCL must immediately and thoroughly investigate these cases of trauma in family detention and further request a complete investigation into psychological and physiological impact that family detention is having on children and mothers.

"The ongoing stress, despair, and uncertainty of detention-even for a relatively brief period of time-specifically compromises the children's intellectual and cognitive development and contributes to the development of chronic illness in ways that may be irreversible." Dr. Luis H. Zayas, the dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and a licensed psychologist and clinical social worker.

Individual Cases

  • Individual Case Evaluation: "Cecilia"
    "[Cecilia's] daughter cries every night. After her daughter goes to sleep she herself weeps every night. She cannot sleep. It is a mixture of awful memories and dread about being trapped in this prison."
  • Individual Case Evaluation: "Juliza"
    "In her current situation, where she lives with fear of being returned to her country of origin where the violence took place, and is most probably going to continue, does not accord her the safety needed to heal from what has happened to her…"
  • Individual Case Evaluation: Celia
    "Detention has the effect of creating an environment that forces Celia to re-experience her trauma on a daily basis, which serves to re-traumatize her."
  • Individual Case Affidavit: Suny
    "Shocked and distraught by the circumstances, Angelo and Suny chose to stay together at the Dilley family detention center, instead of being separated indefinitely…"
  • Individual Case Evaluation: "Natalie"
    "[Natalie] is witnessing the progressive deterioration of her son's emotional condition and feels a desperate level of frustration that she cannot provide the security he needs..."
  • Individual Case Evaluation: Melida and Estrella
    "The child is exquisitely attuned to her mother's emotional state. The fear of separation from her mother and the hypervigilance necessary to follow her mother's emotional moods are having corrosive social and emotional effects on Estrella."
  • Individual Case Evaluation: "Vilma"
    "[Vilma] was very emotional throughout the interview," the licensed psychologist who performed her evaluation explained. "At times, she was sobbing so hard that she had difficulty speaking..."
  • Individual Case Evaluation: "Kira" and "Luis"
    [Luis] eats little and is losing weight…He is socially withdrawn and keeps asking his mother if they can leave this place…When his mother was emotional, he leaned against her as if to comfort her and reassure himself."
  • Individual Case Evaluation: "Olivia"
    "[I]t is my opinion that both mother and son will continue deteriorating emotionally until they are in a safe family environment. [Olivia] is distraught to see her son becoming more anxious and depressed in spite of her best efforts to keep him happy."
  • Individual Case Evaluation: Maria and "Daniel"
    [Daniel] specifically reported an inability to understand the reasons why they are locked up and cannot leave. [Daniel] expressed his immense sadness at seeing his friends leave the detention center and being left to wonder why he and his mother cannot leave.