In the wake of the horrendous DHS Inspector General report of the intense trauma experienced by migrant children, a powerful op-ed authored by three pediatricians for the Boston Globe highlights how the Trump administration’s policies and rhetoric directly threaten the health and well-being of children. They demand the administration stop inflicting trauma on children in pursuit of a political agenda.
The op-ed is excerpted below and can be read in full here.
As pediatricians, we are appalled by this latest cruel attack on the health of immigrant children, but sadly unsurprised. The Trump administration alleges that immigrant parents exploit their children to gain entry to the United States via legal loopholes, when in reality such parents take grave risks to save their children from violence, disease, and poverty, as any good parent would. Rather, it is the administration that exploits these children, recognizing their parents’ love as their greatest vulnerability and seizing upon it as a means to target and punish them.
Administration officials derisively exhort families not to undertake the dangerous journey to the United States with their children, while simultaneously endeavoring to make the journey more perilous. They have proposed multiple rules to punish those who cross the border between legal points of entry, but endanger those who do try to enter legally by metering asylum applications and enforcing the cynically named Migrant Protection Protocols. Such measures require asylum seekers to wait months in crime-ridden Mexican cities where migrant families are targeted for extortion, kidnapping, and murder. Protest attempts led to the now infamous images of border patrol agents lobbing tear gas at children in diapers. Families too desperate to wait attempt unsafe crossings; multiple young children have drowned in the Rio Grande this year as a result.
Meanwhile, the administration seeks to make life in the United States intolerable for immigrant families already living here. The new public charge rule is frightening immigrant parents out of accessing the nutrition and health care benefits to which their US citizen children are legally entitled, including such basic preventive care as vaccines. A proposed Department of Housing and Urban Development rule would ban mixed-status families from accessing public housing benefits, which could precipitate homelessness for more than 55,000 children who are US citizens or otherwise legally eligible. The White House has reportedly even looked into ways to block undocumented immigrant children from attending public schools. The president injected a current of fear into immigrant communities across the country when he threatened mass deportation raids targeting families. ICE subsequently conducted the largest single-state workplace raid in US history on the first day of school in Mississippi, leaving many terrified children uncertain when they would see their parents again, and some children still unaccounted for by state child protective services days after the arrests. Immigration agents have detained children in ambulances, and parents seeking care for their children in emergency rooms.
The president’s policies pose a direct threat to the well-being of children, but so does his divisive rhetoric about an “invasion” from undesirable countries. Research suggests that the anti-Latinx hostility engendered by the 2016 election contributed to higher rates of preterm births among Latinas and increased anxiety, sleep problems, and elevated blood pressure among US-born Latinx adolescents. Latinx children have encountered chants of “build the wall” and “send them back” from classmates. Such bullying becomes all the more menacing when children are being gunned down in bouncy houses and orphaned at Walmarts by shooters espousing anti-Latinx rhetoric that closely echoes the president’s own words.
One in four children in this country comes from an immigrant family. Their health and safety must not be wielded as cudgels in pursuit of a political agenda, nor can we accept their traumatization as collateral damage. Their well-being is crucial to our future; a more humane immigration policy must be administered now.