News of American border and immigration agents separating children from their parents has American Academy of Pediatrics president Colleen Kraft, M.D. outraged “by the ‘sweeping cruelty’ of dividing immigrant families who often are fleeing for their lives.” In an email sent to all pediatrician members of the AAP last week, Dr. Kraft cites “the latest example of harmful actions by the Department of Homeland Security against immigrant families”:

Many media outlets are now reporting about children being separated from families as routine government practice at the southern border of the U.S. This policy contradicts everything we know about promoting and protecting children’s health.

Our 2017 policy statement, “Detention of Immigrant Children,” urges that separation of a parent or primary caregiver from his or her children should never occur, unless there are concerns for the safety of the child at the hand of the parent. The Academy’s position opposing family separation stems from the serious health consequences that this practice has on children.

 

Whether families are trying to legally or illegally enter this country (today, most are seeking asylum from existential threats to their health and well-being if they return to their countries of origin) is beside the point of the AAP’s 2017 policy statement. As Dr. Kraft makes clear:

This is a child health issue. When children are separated from their parents, it can cause irreparable harm to their health. Highly stressful experiences, such as family separation, can disrupt the building of children’s brain architecture. Prolonged exposure to serious stress – toxic stress – can harm the developing brain and harm short- and long-term health.  Family separation robs children of the buffer that a parent or caregiver provides against toxic stress.

 

Writer Andrew Sullivan is aghast at the lack of human decency displayed by U.S. authorities:

I understand the need to maintain a strong border[…] But there are some core humane lines no civilized country should cross, some red lines, such as torture, or mistreatment of prisoners, or the wrenching of children from loving parents by agents of the state. This isn’t a completely isolated instance either. The ICE arrests that are happening every day just as mothers and fathers drop their kids off at school are particularly horrifying. They violate official policy, which is supposed to restrict arrests at “sensitive locations,” but the loopholes in this provision are legion. Children see their mom or dad suddenly subjected to force, shoved out of cars, handcuffed and then simply spirited away. No child should ever be subjected to this, period. The sheer trauma it will generate can last a lifetime. Yes, these are noncitizens. Yes, many have broken the law. But they are also children. Every day we numb ourselves to these core violations of decency, America dies a little.

 

We can do better than this, can’t we?

 

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