Over the past several months, the federal government has forcibly separated thousands of young children from their parents and adult caregivers at the US-Mexico border as part of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. This includes families who legally present themselves at an official border crossing to seek asylum in the U.S. President Trump asserts repeatedly that he is not responsible for this policy and is unable to fix it, citing a law passed by Congressional Democrats. The news media and policy experts have refuted both claims. What is true is that this Administration is using children as leverage to advance its immigration agenda.
Separating children from their adult caregivers as a government policy is cruel, inhumane and immoral. It is also reckless and disastrous policy for children’s mental health and well-being.
Dr. Colleen Kraft, pediatrician and President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recently visited a detention center in Texas that houses migrant children separated from their parents. She noted that while basic needs such as food, shelter, and diaper changes were being met, workers at the center were instructed not to pick up or touch the children.
Imagine you are a young child who has recently made the arduous and uncertain journey from your home country to the U.S. border, likely fleeing due to traumatic conditions and violence, only to be forcibly separated from the only sense of comfort and security you know. You are in a foreign place, you don’t speak the language, you don’t know if you will ever see your parents again and there is no adult who is allowed to physically comfort you.
We don’t have to imagine what the lifelong impact of this kind of trauma might be: public health research tells us. The prolonged stress of being held in detention without the protective buffering of a parent or caring adult relationship can lead to a toxic stress response in children. Toxic stress disrupts brain and organ development, significantly increasing the risk for physical and behavioral health problems into adulthood, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. And then there are the long term impacts that are less measurable: a child’s sense of justice, of right and wrong, and their ability to trust.
Immigration policy is complicated. Meeting the basic mental health needs of children is not. It is unspeakably cruel to sacrifice the latter as a political strategy to advance the former.”
The School-Based Health Alliance stands with our national partners, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the American Psychological Association and others in aggressively opposing the separation of families at the border. We urge the Trump Administration to end this unnecessary and harmful policy.
For more information, please contact Senior Policy and Program Manager Suzanne MackeyShare this blog post: