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Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

No Safe Haven Here

Mental Health Assessment of Women and Children Held in U.S. Immigration Detention

Mothers and children asylum seekers being held in U.S. detention centers are experiencing or are at risk of complex trauma disorder and interrelated health risks. Their condition is exacerbated by traumas experienced on U.S. soil at the hands of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – the officers asylum seekers turned to for protection.

Abuse of asylum seekers by DHS and privately owned detention centers’ staff include reports of sexual abuse, lack of medical care, threats of deportation, threats of separating mothers and children, and obstructing detainees’ rights of access to legal counsel.

This report is based on standard psychological testing, trauma assessments, and in-depth interviews with Central American parents and children in detention and newly released from Dilley and Karnes family detention centers in south Texas.

The “No Safe Haven” report found the following:

  • The greatest stressors to mothers and children held in detention centers resulted from intense separation anxiety, threats and humiliation at the hands of prison staff, and woefully inadequate care.
  • Nearly half of all respondents reported clinically significant symptoms of PTSD.
  • More than half of all mothers and children in the study reported symptoms of depression and anxiety at rates that indicate clinically significant symptoms for anxiety and depression.

Recommendations based on the mental health report echo UUSC’s broader advocacy calls concerning detention of asylum seeking families:

  • End family detention
  • Decriminalize the asylum process
  • Mandate trauma training