“Over the last year, as a result of a new policy established by top officials in the Trump administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has separated at least hundreds—and possibly thousands—of families at the border with Mexico who are seeking asylum in the United States…
Our field recognizes the importance of avoiding Adverse Childhood Experiences for the healthy growth and development of children. Trauma early in life contributes to a broad range of serious health outcomes, including social impairment, disease and disability, and early death. The harsh treatment of children at the border will affect their health and their lives for many years to come. The trauma to their parents is also devastating, and the lasting consequences to thousands of families will be profound.
These family separations violate the most widely ratified of all human rights conventions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Last week, the human rights office of the United Nations objected to forced separations at the U.S. border, stating “the use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles,” and “there is nothing normal about detaining children.” “ (A)
“Studies overwhelmingly demonstrate the irreparable harm caused by breaking up families. Prolonged exposure to highly stressful situations — known as toxic stress — can disrupt a child’s brain architecture and affect his or her short- and long-term health. A parent or a known caregiver’s role is to mitigate these dangers. When robbed of that buffer, children are susceptible to learning deficits and chronic conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even heart disease. The government’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border counteracts every science-based recommendation I have ever made to families who seek to build, and not harm, their children’s intellectual and emotional development.
These parents are given two untenable options. They can return with their children to their home country and the conditions that forced them to flee in the first place. Or they can endure being detained sometimes halfway across the country from their children. Contact is often limited. The separation makes it hard for parents to provide support for the child’s asylum request. In some cases, parents have been deported, leaving a child behind in government custody.” (B)
“As public health professionals we know that children living without their parents face immediate and long-term health consequences. Risks include the acute mental trauma of separation, the loss of critical health information that only parents would know about their children’s health status, and in the case of breastfeeding children, the significant loss of maternal child bonding essential for normal development. Parents’ health would also be affected by this unjust separation.
“More alarming is the interruption of these children’s chance at achieving a stable childhood. Decades of public health research have shown that family structure, stability and environment are key social determinants of a child’s and a community’s health.
“Furthermore, this practice places children at heightened risk of experiencing adverse childhood events and trauma, which research has definitively linked to poorer long-term health. Negative outcomes associated with adverse childhood events include some of society’s most intractable health issues: alcoholism, substance misuse, depression, suicide, poor physical health and obesity.
“There is no law requiring the separation of parents and children at the border. This policy violates fundamental human rights. We urge the administration to immediately stop the practice of separating immigrant children and parents and ensure those who have been separated are rapidly reunited, to ensure the health and well-being of these children.”” (C)
“In 1997, the government settled a class-action suit brought by unaccompanied minors against INS. That case, Flores v. Reno, established three mandates for the government’s handling of unaccompanied minors. First, that detention should be as brief as possible, with immediate efforts being taken to find a parent, relative or qualified adult with whom the children could live. Second, that children should be treated with dignity and respect that recognized the vulnerabilities that accompany childhood. And, third, that the detention should be in the least restrictive facility possible — a facility less like a jail than a day care….
Flores “doesn’t come close to saying what the administration says it says,” Motomura said. There have always been some criminal prosecutions for people who are crossing the border illegally, he added. “I just never heard that this resulted in a blanket policy of family separation in this way.”
“The reality is, even though theoretically they have the authority to do that, through the immigration laws, to prosecute the parent, in the past that was truly the exception to the rule,” Young said. “The administration stating that they’re required to do this law flies in the face of a long-standing history of treating families like families and recognizing that the children, whether attached to a family or arriving unaccompanied, have particular vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.”..
Young blamed the administration directly. “They are imploding the system themselves,” she said. “It doesn’t have to happen.” (D)
“The use of criminal charges against parents caught crossing the border triggers a legal situation that necessitates separating children, while the use of civil immigration detention and removal does not require this to occur. When adults are detained and prosecuted in the criminal justice system for immigration offenses, their children cannot, by law, be housed with them in criminal jails, so the family unit is separated. The children are placed with the Department of Health and Human Services in shelters until they can be released to a family member, guardian, or foster family in the United States.
Previous administrations used family detention facilities, allowing the whole family to stay together while awaiting their deportation case in immigration court, or alternatives to detention, which required families to be tracked but released from custody to await their court date. Some children may have been separated from the adults they entered with, in cases where the family relationship could not be established, child trafficking was suspected, or there were not sufficient family detention facilities available. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to establish more capacity to detain families and children, rather than releasing them until their hearing date. However, the zero-tolerance policy is the first time that a policy resulting in separation is being applied across the board.” (E)
(A) Separating Families at U.S. Borders is a Public Health Issue, by Ellen J. MacKenzie et al, https://www.jhsph.edu/about/dean-mackenzie/news/separating-families-at-us-borders-is-a-public-health-issue.html
(B) Separating parents from their kids at the border contradicts everything we know about children’s welfare, by Colleen Kraft, www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-kraft-border-separation-suit-20180503-story.html
(C) Separating parents and children at US border is inhumane and sets the stage for a public health crisis, https://www.apha.org/news-and-media/news-releases/apha-news-releases/2018/parent-child-separation
(D) Why the Trump administration bears the blame for separating children from their families at the border, by Philip Bump, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/06/15/why-the-trump-administration-bears-the-blame-for-separating-children-from-their-families-at-the-border/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1144174165f2
(E) Why Are families Being Separated at the Border? An Explainer, by Tim O’Shea, Theresa Cardinal Brown, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/why-are-families-being-separated-at-the-border-an-explainer/