When I volunteered in Mexico last spring with two Proskauer colleagues alongside the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI), I witnessed a growing humanitarian crisis. The U.S. “Remain in Mexico” Policy – officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – requires asylum seekers at the southern border to wait in Mexico for the duration of their U.S. immigration proceedings, a requirement that puts thousands of people in danger. A report issued last week by Human Rights First confirms the danger by detailing current conditions faced by the more than 60,000 migrants now waiting in Mexico. In particular, the report finds:
The families and children migrating from Central America have suffered terrible traumatic experiences, and a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a non-profit advocacy group, addresses the serious, long-term medical consequences of this trauma. These important findings provide compelling support for more humane immigration policies, and inform best practices for lawyers working with immigration clients.
Trauma Suffered by Young Migrants
Multiple studies link trauma to long-term negative health outcomes, including chronic disease, impaired cognitive development, and mental health conditions. With analysis by medical school faculty and students from Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, the report is significant for its sole focus on child asylum seekers. Out of the 183 children in the study, nearly 80% experienced direct physical violence, 71% experienced threats of violence or death, 59% witnessed acts of violence, and almost 20% experienced repeated sexual violence or exploitation. Sixty percent of the children experienced some form of gang violence, and 47% experienced violence perpetrated by family members. A constant theme among the children was the lack of protection from law enforcement in their home countries. (Eighty-nine percent were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.) Many also reported traumatic experiences during transit to the U.S. through dangerous terrain, with inadequate food or water, where they remained vulnerable to continued acts of violence.
Last month, Proskauer filed an amicus brief on behalf of Sanctuary for Families — a leading non-profit organization advocating for victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking —specifically to advocate for allowing criminal prosecutions based on lawfully recorded telephone calls that abusers in pretrial detention use to coerce victims not to testify.
According to some reports, up to 80% of victims of domestic abuse and sex trafficking recant their testimony of the abuse and refuse to cooperate with police. Decades of social-science research, along with recent academic studies and reputable reporting, show that many domestic violence and sex trafficking victims recant because they are suffering from acute psychological trauma akin to Stockholm Syndrome: by combining psychological manipulation with incidents of physical violence, abusers achieve “coercive control” of their victims and successfully instruct them not to testify. Abusers in pretrial detention are particularly incentivized to coerce their victims not to testify because, often, the victim is the only available witness to the crime.