The federal impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine has gripped the nation this week. It was sparked by the claims of two federal whistleblowers.
Dr. Pamela McPherson knows the ramifications of being a federal whistleblower. It’s because she is one.
“I try to help children that are having trouble with their thinking, their feelings, or their behavior,” McPherson said quietly as she sat with her legs crossed. Her demeanor, resolute. She specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry.
“I work with children and families right here in Shreveport,” said Dr. McPherson. “I went to medical school here in Shreveport. College at Centenary. High school at Byrd.”
Over the past three decades she has developed an expertise on the effects of detention on children.
In 2014 Dr. McPherson became a mental health expert for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. She examined federal family detention facilities then gave feedback to DHS.
In the spring of 2018 it led to her making a life altering choice.
“Being a whistleblower can be lonely. You don’t know if you are doing the right thing,” said McPherson.
She and her colleague, Dr. Scott Allen, penned a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Whistleblowing Caucus.
In it they identified the physical and mental trauma children were experiencing at four detention facilities, including Karnes and Dilly Detention Centers in Texas.
“Knowing that children were being separated. Knowing that the prospect of indefinite detention of children was looming … I wasn’t sleeping,” said McPherson. “I watched, as many Americans watched, children being separated from their parents. I’m a mother. I couldn’t imagine what parents were going through in those moments.
Dr. McPherson says she felt compelled.
“I felt I had to be a voice for children,” she said.
After her letter was sent, First Lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited DHS facilities detaining migrants. Federal officials also testified before congress.
On July 31, 2018, Matthew Albence, ICE Executive Assoc. Dir. of Enforcement & Removals Operations said the following in testimony before congress: “With regard to the FRC’s (family residential centers), I think the best way to describe them is to be more like a summer camp.”
“When I hear government officials say that the family residential centers are like Summer Camps … I know that’s not true,” she said. “And I don’t know why someone would tell congress or the American people that.”
According to the Associated Press, new government data that came out this month shows nearly 70,000 migrant children were held in U.S. Government custody over the past year. United Nations researchers say that’s more than any other country.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has been very clear that no amount, no length of detention is safe for children,” said McPherson. “Pediatricians are who we all should be trusting on this issue.”
McPherson and Dr. Allen sought legal guidance before deciding to become whistleblowers. The Government Accountability Project chose to represent them.
“The moment I decided to become a whistleblower, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
It’s the same organization which represents the federal whistleblowers who’ve sparked President Trump’s impeachment inquiry.
“I don’t know those whistleblowers of course. But I think many whistleblowers go through a period of time where they question their moral and ethical obligations. They question their values. The consider what impact whistleblowing might have on their families or colleagues,” said McPherson. “There is a steep learning curve when you decide to become a whistleblower. But underlying that steep learning curve and any pushback a person may receive, is the knowledge within yourself that you are doing the right thing.”
She feels she is doing the right thing. For her, it’s a matter of humanity.
“This is a matter of human dignity. This is a matter of justice,” she said. “It’s a matter of doing right by children.”