SAHM Calls for Release Immigrant Youth and their Families from ICE Detention Centers

June 4, 2020

For Immediate Release                                                                        Contact: Ryan Norton
June 4, 2020                                                                                  

The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM), along with thousands of medical and public health experts, recommend the immediate release of youth and their families detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Centers into the custody of appropriately screened sponsors in the United States.

This measure is the safest strategy to protect this population living with social and health inequities as well as federal employees working at the centers and their communities. It is an essential strategy to prevent overwhelming of health systems in the broader society. We call on ICE, state and federal officials to act now to protect the health and human rights of immigrant youth and families in detention.

The evidence-based concept of youth thriving while living with their families is undergirded by human development, public health, and human rights principles and knowledge. It necessitates that youth be united with their families if separated, and if jointly detained, be released together. Children and families should receive proper testing for coronavirus before their placement with screened sponsors: family members or connections, or civil society groups ready to fill the void when no sponsors were available, or temporarily when releasing those adolescents that tested positive may pose an undue burden on their relatives if the relatives do not have a separate bedroom for the adolescent. Through these placements in the community, they can better practice social distancing, safely self-isolate or quarantine according to their coronavirus test results, and access proper health care as needed to control the spread of the infection. Under no circumstances should youth or their families be deported to their country of origin, as they were escaping life-threatening conditions.

Immigrant youth may have vulnerable and stressed relatives who are living in close living quarters and releasing them to their home may exacerbate the spread to their relatives. Detained youth need to be tested and those with COVID-19 need to be quarantined for at least 14 days or until they have cleared the infection in an appropriate setting. The release of a COVID positive adolescent may pose an undue burden on their relatives if the relatives do not have a separate bedroom for the adolescent.

The novel coronavirus and the disease it produces, COVID-19, pose serious health threats to the global population, particularly those living with social and health inequities. Sites of incarceration or detention pose a specific risk for the spread of COVID-19.

ICE detention centers are poorly equipped to manage medical conditions in children and youth. The inability of detention center staff to adequately triage and provide medical care for children with influenza resulted in several deaths secondary to influenza complications. We are now facing a disease that is more deadly and more contagious than influenza, within systems that are not adequately staffed or designed to handle large-scale health crises.

Immigrant adolescents and young adults face unique dangers due to COVID-19. While early reports suggest that adolescents and young adults are less likely to experience severe illness than adults, they can experience severe morbidity as well as mortality from COVID-19, and this is especially true if they have compromised health status or underlying conditions. Youth in detention centers may be at increased risk for severe disease for multiple reasons. They may have underlying medical conditions such as asthma. They may also have compromised immune systems due to undiagnosed or poorly managed medical conditions, malnutrition and the effects of the stress that pushed their families or themselves to migrate, the burden of the migration journey, their lifelong biopsychosocial circumstances, or malnutrition.

Furthermore, youth in detention centers may be at increased risk due to crowded living conditions. Youth have been found to carry high viral loads of COVID-19 even in the absence of severe symptoms, which increases the risk of the rapid spread of disease in detention centers where social distancing cannot be practiced.

Read the full statement here.

The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM), founded in 1968, is a non-profit multidisciplinary professional society of 1,200 members committed to the promotion of health, well-being, and equity for all adolescents and young adults by supporting adolescent health and medicine professionals through the advancement of clinical practice, care delivery, research, advocacy, and professional development. Through education, research, clinical services and advocacy activities, SAHM enhances public and professional awareness of adolescent health issues among families, educators, policy makers, youth-serving organizations, students in the field as well as other health professionals around the world.


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