United States Immigration Detention and the Role of Nurses

A Call for Action Against Human Rights Violations

Altaf Saadi, MD, MS; Amanda Payne, RN-BSN, CCRN, SANE-A


Online J Issues Nurs. 2019;24(3) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The forcible separation of migrant children from their families under the current United States (U.S.) administration's "zero-tolerance" policy (Office of the Attorney General, 2018) and the prosecution of migrants crossing into the United States, even when exercising their legal right to seek asylum, have spurred a national outcry. Many medical professional organizations warn that children separated from their parents experience serious short- and long-term consequences (Kraft, 2018; Lopez, 2018). Subsequent media stories have highlighted the horrifying conditions to which these children are exposed in immigration detention facilities: inadequate nutrition, foil sheets intended to serve as blankets, substandard and delayed medical care, denial of meaningful social interactions such as hugging one another, and being held in cages (Merchant, 2018). In this Ethics Column, the authors discuss the background of the current immigration detention system and the integral role of nurses in immigration detention facilities across the US, apply a human rights and trauma-informed-care ethical framework to their discussion, analyze the ethical dilemma of dual loyalty, and conclude by sharing ways in which nurses and physicians can speak out together against the human rights violations occurring against this vulnerable, trauma-exposed population of immigrants and asylum seekers.