Mar 16, 2020
Growing up in Honduras, Kevin Acueda found himself without an adult to take care of him at the age of 12, after his abusive grandmother died from alcoholism. The shack he had shared with her was soon taken over by members of the MS-13 gang, but Kevin had nowhere else to go so he stayed, even though the gang tortured rivals on the patio and eventually put Kevin to work selling drugs.
When Kevin’s cousin Ramon refused to join the gang, MS-13 members kidnapped him. Kevin asked the gang to spare his cousin, but instead, they forced him to kick Ramon in the chest, before the gang then tortured and murdered him. When, a few months later, gang members ordered Kevin to kill a stranger to prove his loyalty, Kevin convinced his sister to flee with him to the United States.
All of this comes from testimony then-17-year-old Kevin gave to a therapist working for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. The therapist told Kevin that their discussion was “your opportunity to tell your story,” and assured him she was not a cop. Yet the transcript of their discussion was passed along to ICE agents, who have used it as the center of their argument to keep Kevin in detention, where he has now sat for more than 900 days.
Twice, a U.S. immigration judge has attempted to grant Kevin’s asylum request. Both times, ICE agents used this supposedly confidential conversation between a minor and a therapist to appeal the judge’s decision.
Kevin’s case is not unique. According to interviews conducted by the Washington Post, most shelter therapists make promises of confidentiality they cannot keep. In California, a teenager who had been detained for 11 months confided that he wanted to die—ICE used this to argue he was a danger to himself and should be deported. In Virginia, a 16-year-old told a therapist his brother had been involved in a murder—the therapist reported that he had himself been involved in it, and he was transferred immediately to a higher-security detention center.
The American Psychological Association, National Social Workers Association, and American Counseling Association all agree that sharing therapy notes and using them against a child violates the basic ethics of therapy. Children and therapists alike generally assume that anything said in therapy is private. But ICE will use any excuse to further brutalize a child who happened to be born in another country.