Los Angeles Times Editorial: The U.S. Government Used Private Disclosures Made in Therapy Sessions Against a Teenage Asylum Seeker

On March 10th, 2020, the Los Angeles Times published an important editorial highlighting the disheartening and distributing case of a 17-year-old asylum seeker who had seemingly protected disclosures he made in therapy used against him in official legal proceedings. 

While the boy was told that the information he shared with mental health professionals would be kept confidential, that was a false promise—legal representatives working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) got access to the information and used it to paint him as a dangerous gang member in an effort to deny him asylum. 

Protected Disclosures Made By a Teenager Were Taken Out of Context

The Los Angeles Times focuses on the heart wrenching story of Kevin Euceda—a 17-year-old boy from Honduras who is seeking asylum in the United States. When he arrived at the United States-Mexico border without his parents more than three years ago, he was transferred into the custody of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

While in U.S. government custody, the teenager received mental health counseling. He was encouraged to be open about his past experiences—indeed, he was told that his therapy conversations were completely confidential and that he could share his challenges. Relying on this promise, he told his therapists about his incredibly difficult life in Honduras, including: the loss of his grandmother, his initiation into a gang at just 12 years old, and fleeing the country when the gang leaders tried to force him to commit murder. 

Disturbingly, HHS officials eventually turned those therapy notes over to ICE. In turn, the immigration enforcement agency tried to use these disclosures against the teenager—arguing that his asylum claim should be rejected on the grounds that he was active in a gang. This was not only a violation of his trust, but a misrepresentation and oversimplification of the situation. The Los Angeles Times reports that other unaccompanied minors have dealt with similar trauma. 

Legal Reform is Desperately Needed: The Immigrants’ Mental Health Act

What happened in this case and in other similar cases is a violation of some of basic professional standards of mental health counseling. That the federal government is trying to use confidential statements made by young migrants against them is deeply disturbing. It should not be allowed to continue. 

Last week, an important bill was introduced in Congress to provide new protections to immigrants. Co-sponsored by Representative Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32) and Senator Jeff Merkely (D-OR), the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act would prohibit sensitive, personal information shared with therapists and mental health professionals from being used against immigrants in asylum cases. As Representative Napolitano explained, the legislation is an important initial step to “address the mental health crisis at our border.” 

Call Our Asylum Lawyer for Legal Guidance

At the Goldstein Immigration Lawyers, our California asylum rights attorney is an experienced, dedicated advocate for clients. If you or your family member has any questions about applying for asylum, we are here to help. Contact us at our Los Angeles law office for a fully private, no commitment review of your case.