Rep. Napolitano & Sen. Merkley Re-introduce Immigrants’ Mental Health Act

(WASHINGTON, DC) Today, U.S. Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32) and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) re-introduced the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act (H.R. 2480, S. 1100). 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 reporting last year by the Washington Post detailing how notes from mandatory confidential therapy sessions were used in deportation proceedings against immigrant children.

“While we are encouraged by a new administration which pledges to treat immigrants and asylum seekers with the dignity and respect they deserve, the fact is damage from the previous administration has been done and may be far-reaching,” Napolitano said. “From families separated at the border to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions to a complete lack of due process for asylum seekers, we may not soon know the full extent of the trauma and harm inflicted. Even as we seek to restore humanity to our immigration system, thousands continue fleeing death threats and hardships in their home countries in search of safety and opportunity, like generations of immigrants to the U.S. before them. We have an obligation to protect the safety and health of asylum seekers, including their emotional well-being. Our bill equips CBP agents with proper training to identify risk factors and warning signs, especially among vulnerable children, ensures confidential information shared with a mental health professional remains confidential, and offers additional steps we can take to address the mental health crisis at our border. I am proud to re-introduce this legislation with Senator Merkley, and we ask all our colleagues for their support.”

“Seeking physical or mental health care services takes courage. No one—including the kids in our custody along the southern border—should be punished for accessing support from a social worker or therapist. But the Trump administration did exactly that, by using notes from mandatory therapy sessions to deport children,” said Merkley. “The American people elected President Biden in part because they want an immigration system that treats every human being with decency, respect, and compassion, and that means we have to undo this heinous form of psychological abuse.”

“The American Psychological Association applauds Congresswoman Napolitano and Senator Merkley for reintroducing the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act of 2021,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “The bill expands access to trauma-informed mental health care for immigrants and educates Customs and Border Protection agents working with immigrants. Additionally, the bill includes a provision to prohibit the sharing of information gathered during confidential psychotherapy sessions with child immigrants. APA worked closely with Congresswoman Napolitano’s office last year on this legislation and will continue to help gain broad support for the bill.”

Overview of the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act:

  • 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.

House original cosponsors include Representatives Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM-03), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01), Albio Sires (D-NJ-08), Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16), and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA-29).

Senate original cosponsors include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The bill is supported by the following organizations: American Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, National Latino Behavioral Health Association, and Pacific Clinics.