Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Is Indefinitely Detaining Migrant Families a Hate Crime?

In the last week, the Trump Administration proposed a regulation that would allow it to indefinitely detain migrant families who illegally cross the border. The rule would replace the Flores agreement, a 10 year old agreement that limits how long the government can hold children in custody and mandates a level of care for migrant families with children.

If the new rule goes into effect, the administration would be free to send families who are caught crossing the border illegally to a family residential center to be held for as long as it takes for their immigration cases to be decided.

Recently The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies ( ISTSS) released a Briefing Paper on the “Global Perspectives on the Trauma of Hate-Based Violence”

The goal of the proposed regulation by the Trump Administration to replace the Flores Agreement and indefinitely detain migrant families is alarmingly similar to the dynamics of hate-based violence.

Consider the four  of the Key Points listed in the Global Perspectives:

Hate-based violence is a type of potentially traumatic stressor intended to instill fear and anxiety, inflict psychological damage, diminish a sense of belonging, exclude a group identified as “other,” and/or expunge a group from the community.

The Administration’s new recommendation is meant to single out and instill fear and anxiety in families with children crossing the border illegally into the US  by detaining them for indefinite periods of time. It has portrayed migrants as rapists and drug pushers and accuses them of using children as shields or a “ passport” out of detention. The punishment is now indefinite detention. No consideration is made for the reality of parents seeking asylum from violence and life threatening conditions in the places from which they are fleeing. No recognition is made for the legal protections that recognize that people fleeing violence and persecution often have little choice but to cross borders anywhere to seek asylum and avoid danger. 

 Hate-based violence differs from other types of potentially traumatic events in that it is intended to send a message by threatening or harming not only the person(s) being directly victimized but the entire community to which the person is perceived to belong.

Believing that The Flores Agreement had incentivized migration to the United States with children, the administration’s goal with the new rule is deterrence. The message is clear: If you come, you will be locked up with your children. As suggested by Mr. McAleenan , the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security- Bringing a child is not a “ passport” to being released from detention.

Hate-based violence may include a continuum of behaviors that may impact health and well-being; some of the behaviors may constitute traumatic events in accordance with the DSM-5 PTSD criteria while others may represent significant stressors that may be represented by other diagnoses or conditions.

  • The Flores Agreement has held for a decade due to a consent decree in a federal class-action lawsuit over the physical and emotional harm done to children held in jail-like settings for extended periods. Research from countries like Australia which have used mandatory unlimited detention for asylum seekers demonstrates that prolonged detention has adverse mental health and psychosocial impacts on adults, families and children which may extend well beyond the point of release into the community. The findings underscore the need to ensure that the traumas that cause mental suffering in refugees are not compounded as a consequence of immigration policy decisions in recipient countries.
  • The Trump administration’s new regulation eliminates a requirement that federal detention centers for immigrant families be licensed by states. Instead, the centers built to house hundreds of immigrant families — in Dilley and Karnes City, Tex., and Leesport, Pa. — would only have to meet standards set by ICE, which runs them. Given the recent evidence of horrific conditions  for adults and children at Border Patrol stations with standing room only cells for adults and centers for children with blankets on the floor, and very limited capacity for showering, hot food blankets and basic hygiene, there is reason to be very concerned about the adult and children’s physical and emotional well-being.

The traumatic impact of hate-based violence may be broad and the social consequences may be complex; the traumatic impact of acts of hate-based violence may adversely affect an individual and the entire group to which victimized individuals belong.

The continued identification of a group, in this case families of immigrants, as dangerous, unwelcome, unworthy of shelter, respect, and timely asylum hearings, results  in physical and psychological demoralization as well as an internalization of the hated. In the home culture the negative projections on to the immigrant group engender fear, blame, discord, hatred and too often regression to violence.

According to the “Global Perspectives On The Trauma Of Hate Based Violence,” the Pyramid of Hate Crimes starts with discrimination and moves from hate speech to hate crimes.

Is this where our Immigration Policies are taking us?