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February 24, 2016

Amicus Brief: Flores v. United States

Brief for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (“AACAP”) and the National Association of Social Workers (“NASW”)

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

Immigration detention poses a severe risk to the mental health of minors, whether they are detained with or without their parents. In recent visits to ICE family detention centers, Dr. Alan Shapiro and Dr. Luis Zayas found that detained children suffered serious and potentially permanent harm to their mental health after only brief periods of detention. Research confirms that the very fact of detention, even absent abuse or neglect, often leads to clinically significant levels of mental health disorder in detained immigrants. Detention exacerbates existing health problems, re-traumatizes asylum-seekers fleeing traumatic experiences, and inflicts new psychological damage. Minors are especially sensitive to these harms and have been found to frequently develop mental health problems and developmental disorders in confinement. They may exhibit symptoms of these disorders after even brief periods of detention, and the harmful effects of detention can last well past the term of confinement, impacting children’s long-term mental and social development. This is true whether they are detained alone or with family members. Indeed, children face a similar risk of harm when they are confined with a powerless, despairing parent.

By requiring that the Government release “all minors” as expeditiously as possible, or, where release is not possible, hold children in the least restrictive setting possible, the Flores Settlement Agreement (“Agreement”) limits the harm that federal immigration detention causes to children. Amici urge this Court to affirm the District Court’s decision that the Agreement applies to all minors, not just unaccompanied children, and should not be amended, because it is consistent with well-established medical research demonstrating the risks of detention to all children. 

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