Why Pediatricians Worry about Family Separation:
Sadly, we have lots of data about the damage done to children when they are separated from their families.
- In Romania during his tenure as communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu felt that the Romanian economy would improve if there were simply more Romanians, and so he pushed people to have children that they did not have the resources to care for. As a result, there were many Romanian children who grew up in orphanages.
- In Australia, about 1 in 10 Aboriginal children were removed from their families to be raised by white Christians between 1910 and 1970.
- In China right now many children, known as “the left behind,” live in outlying villages while their parents move away to work.
When children are separated from their families, their bodies suffer a stress response and secrete cortisol and adrenaline. These molecules initially damage and in the end can kill brain cells. Brain cells cannot repair themselves, so this kind of toxic stress can destroy both the white and gray matter in the child’s brain, resulting in permanent brain damage and lower overall brain activity.
Kids who are separated from their parents at a young age – those Romanian kids, the Aboriginal kids in Australia – have lower IQs, suffer the long term effects of PTSD, and their fight or flight response can be permanently broken. Their brains have trouble distinguishing what is safe from what is dangerous, so they will be scared of things that they should normally know are safe.
Those stolen Aboriginal kids have twice the rates of criminal arrests and gambling, and 60% more alcoholism.
Separated kids have more aggression, tend to withdraw from normal relationships, and have significantly higher rates of anxiety and depression. They are more likely to have high risk behaviors, get pregnant as teens, and commit suicide. It can affect their emotional development, which can lead to less resilience and adaptability later in life.
They are also at higher risk for long term physical problems including hypertension and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
To quote Dr. Hansa Bhargava at WebMD, it can even potentially change their DNA, “affecting how their body and brain function for the rest of their lives.”
There is no doubt that separating kids from their families is as much child abuse as beating them, even before you add in how they are treated while being held in cages in constant light, noise, and cold, without the watchful eyes and comfort of their parents.
How Did This Happen So Suddenly?
First, some background. Entry into the US without a visa was perfectly legal (with an entrance fee) until 1929, when it was made a misdemeanor. Thousands of Mexicans were prosecuted for illegal entry between 1930 and the beginning of WWII (85-99% of the inmates in the booming border prison business were Mexican). Mostly white people got a pass.
World War II hit and suddenly we desperately needed those Mexican agricultural workers. We said “come on in!” and didn’t prosecute much again until 2005.
In the early 2000s life is places like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras became a lot more dangerous. Gangs proliferated, and people came to our borders in increased numbers seeking a safer life for their families. Between 2003 and 2005 the number of illegal entries at our southern border went from 4000/year to 16,500/year; in 2010 it was 44,000; it peaked in 2013 at 97,000.
Recently the numbers overall have gone down but the number of families coming through has increased.
The immigration crisis is here.
So we reacted. A 1997 court had ruled that the government is must release children from detention in not longer than 20 days (Flores vs Reno) to either the parents, an adult relative, or a licensed program. In 2015 they expanded this to apply to children arrested with their families, not just unaccompanied minors.
Since we did not have enough beds for so many, this resulted in the practice of “catch and release.” Immigration aimed at prosecuting people who were dangerous to our national security, gang members, and criminals who had committed felonies rather than simple misdemeanors, and let families go.
On 4/6/2018 Attorney General Sessions announced a new policy of “zero tolerance.” This required every adult crossing the border illegally to be arrested and prosecuted for the misdemeanor offence of illegal border crossing, leaving their children stranded alone.
Not wearing a seatbelt is a misdemeanor. Do we expect to lose our kids forever if we are caught not wearing a seatbelt?
These kids – more than 2300 as I write – are now being housed in cages. We’ve seen pictures only of the older boys; the government will not allow any photos other than the ones they release themselves. The babies and toddlers are apparently being housed in “tender care” facilities, where the staff care for them but are not allowed to touch or comfort them. Hitler did this to babies as an experiment, to see how babies would do with food and care but no love. They all died.
They currently have no plan for returning these kids to their families. Some parents have been told they will never see their kids again. Some have already been deported to their home country without their children; other parents have been looking unsuccessfully for their children for weeks.
So when the head of HHS says we are not separating families, she is lying. When our president says he is merely following the Democrat’s laws, he is lying. There is no law, just a new policy that he could reverse with one order. When Sessions defends this with the Bible… I just can’t.
Session’s says he hopes that knowing this will happen will keep people from coming – an experiment, on babies. Trump says if the Dems sign his Immigration Bill (fund the wall, disavow the Dreamers) he will end it.
Yesterday the UN’s Human Rights Council criticized the practice of family separation, saying “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable…People do not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa.”
So today we left the Human Rights Council.
So What Can We Do About It?
First, we must stop separating families now. There is a bill in the House right now – S.3036 – to stop it. 100% of the Democrats have signed it, 100% of the Republicans have not. Our reps are playing political games while children suffer. Call your rep and let him know you want this stopped. Here in Alabama that rep is Senator Shelby at 202-224-5744.
Donate to KIND (Kids in Need of Defense).
What can we do long term?
- We can help South American countries to become safer places, so families can stay in their homes.
- We can aim better. Prosecute the people who have committed felonies, who might be a danger to our national security, and who are gang members.
- we can require that employers who hire foreign agricultural and construction workers get the proper visas, pay reasonable wages, and don’t allow child labor.
- We can allow asylum claims for domestic violence and gang violence.
- We can streamline the path to citizenship so that it is accessible to all.
- We can better fund our court system so that it does not take 2-3 years to work through an asylum claim.
- We can use ankle bracelets to make sure the adults show up for their court dates, but can work and care for their children in the interim.
- We can get big brains who know a lot more about immigration than I do to work on a bipartisan solution, instead of using these kids as pawns in a political game.
- We can work together, Democrats and Republicans, to solve problems instead of acting like toddlers fighting over a prize.
We as Americans are abusing and damaging children to win political points. It must end. We have to be better than this.