2018 Whistleblower of the Year Candidate — Child Detention Whistleblowers Dr. Pamela McPherson and Dr. Scott Allen
Border security is no doubt a complicated and controversial subject these days. But what is not complicated or controversial (for most) is the safety and well-being of the innocent children caught in the middle. When U.S. immigration authorities began forcibly separating children from their parents at the Southern border earlier this year, there was an immediate outcry from both sides of the political divide. Fortunately, it was loud enough and wide enough to put an abrupt stop to this particularly cruel manifestation of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.
But here we are only months later and the safety and well-being of the children snared in this political dragnet are still at serious risk. This according to two of the government’s own medical consultants, Drs. Pamela McPherson and Scott Allen, who have served on the front lines of this political horror show. Working as medical and psychiatric subject matter experts for the Department of Homeland Security, they have inspected the family detention facilities where immigrant families have been confined. What they found was disturbing to say the least. So much so, it forced them to stand up and speak out against the very agency and administration that retained them.
In a detailed report they wrote to Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the heads of the Senate’s Whistleblower Caucus, Drs. McPherson and Allen outlined their findings and concerns on the serious harm to which children in these facilities are exposed. This danger, they say, is real and immediate and in no way mitigated by simply keeping families intact:
The fundamental flaw of family detention is not just the risk posed by the conditions of confinement – it’s the incarceration of innocent children itself. In our professional opinion, there is no amount of programming that can ameliorate that harms created by the very act of confining children to detention centers.
As to the forced separation of children from their parents, the doctors equated the practice to “state sponsored child abuse.” The two-thousand children victimized by the practice “now face a lifetime of increased risk of . . . anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and poor physical health.” According to the doctors, detaining these children with a parent does not remove this serious risk. It is a sentiment widely shared across the medical community.
Prompted by the McPherson/Allen entreaty, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association and a dozen more of the country’s leading medical associations filed its own plea to Congress to investigate the “current situation facing migrant children and families.” They pointed to the “troubling observations” described in the McPherson/Allen report and to their own collective view of the serious harm these detention centers pose to children. Because of such conditions as “open toilets, constant light exposure, insufficient food and water, no bathing facilities, extremely cold temperatures, and forcing children to sleep on cement floors,” this broad cross-section of the country’s medical elite concluded in the starkest of terms: “These facilities are not appropriate places for children.”
Which brings us back to the good doctors McPherson and Allen and why we have nominated them for this year’s Whistleblower of the Year accolade. Like all true whistleblowers, they have shined a bright light on a dangerous practice that puts the most vulnerable among us in harm’s way. And like many whistleblowers, they could not resist the siren’s call that leads so may strong and courageous individuals to say something when they see something that rubs against their moral compass:
The ethics of our profession are clear that we have a professional duty not only to intervene to prevent physical and mental harm to children, but to speak out against assaults on their dignity as well. We also have a professional duty to speak out against injustice where authority discriminates against vulnerable populations, especially when it involves children. . . . To remain silent would mean complicity.
Their message and their mission are being heard loud and clear. They have been featured in the New York Times, NPR and 60 Minutes among other high-profile media outlets. And most recently, according to their lawyers at the Government Accountability Project, Dr. Allen will join a Congressional delegation to the Karnes and Dilley family detention centers in Texas to further expose the “harmful practice of detaining families and children.”
It is for this heroism; this unwavering passion; this self-imposed duty to speak truth to power and serve as the guardian for those unable to protect themselves; and ultimately, for taking a stand against an injustice so many of us deplore but have felt powerless to address – that we nominate Drs. McPherson and Allen as 2018 Whistleblowers of the Year.
Read about all of our Whistleblower of the Year Candidates:
- Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Christopher Wylie
- Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
- The Center for Investigative Reporting and Reveal
- Church abuse whistleblower Siobhan O’Connor
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