Rep. Napolitano & Sen. Merkley Introduce the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act

(WASHINGTON, DC)  Today, U.S. Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32) and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act of 2020. Both Rep. Napolitano and Senator Merkley have been very engaged in responding to the humanitarian crisis unfolding as a result of the failures of the Trump administration. Their bicameral legislation is a product of Congressional delegation trips to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, visits to local Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters and ICE detention centers, and an alarming recent story by the Washington Post detailing how notes from mandatory confidential therapy sessions have been used in deportation proceedings against immigrant children.

“We have all been horrified by the cruel separation of families at the border, the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and the lack of due process for asylum seekers, which have come to define this administration,” said Napolitano. “But these images only show part of the nightmare. Less visible is the suffering occurring inside of these asylum seekers and refugees. Many have faced death threats in their home countries or along the journey to the United States, only to be further traumatized at our border. This is why equipping CBP agents with proper training to identify risk factors and warning signs, especially among vulnerable children, is absolutely critical.”

“Information shared with a mental health professional is supposed to be private, so it must remain private,” continued Napolitano. “We cannot allow such sensitive, personal information to be shared with any other agency; not for asylum determinations or any other reason. We have an obligation to protect the safety and health of asylum seekers, including their emotional well-being. We must turn our outrage and horror into action, and our bill is a positive first step to begin to address the mental health crisis at our border.” 

“This administration’s weaponizing of child therapy notes is vile,” said Merkley. “They are breaching the trusting relationships between kids and their social workers and therapists to deport vulnerable children back to potentially horrific fates. Who among us would be ok treating our children this way? The psychological abuse of children is unethical and immoral, and we must put a stop to it.” 

“The American Psychological Association commends Congresswoman Napolitano and Senator Merkley for introducing the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act of 2020,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “Critically, the bill includes a provision to prohibit the sharing of information obtained from confidential psychotherapy sessions involving child immigrants who are seeking asylum. It also seeks to expand access to trauma-informed mental health care for immigrants and educate Customs and Border Protection agents working with immigrants. APA looks forward to helping to gain broad support for the bill.”

Overview of the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act of 2020:

·         Would direct the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in consultation with the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use (SAMHSA), the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration to develop and implement a training curriculum to: (1) identify mental health risk factors and warning signs in immigrants and refugees and (2) to address mental health and wellness of CBP officers and agents

·         Would direct SAMHSA to conduct an annual review of the training and include any recommendations for improvement

·         To adequately evaluate the mental health needs of immigrants, refugees, border patrol agents, and staff, the bill would direct CBP to assign at least one qualified mental or behavioral health expert to each CBP detention facility

·         Would prevent the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from sharing and/or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from requesting an immigrant’s confidential mental health therapy notes for asylum determinations, immigration hearings, or deportation proceedings.

The full text of the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act can be viewed here.