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To Protect Children from Harm, DHS Should Stop Separating Children from Parents, says the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics

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The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Colleen Kraft, published an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times stating, “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.”

In her column, Dr. Kraft explains that despite at least five letters from the AAP, a letter signed by 200 child welfare, juvenile justice and child development organizations, and repeated calls from Congress, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues the harmful practice of forced separation of families.

At the same time, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson defended DHS before Congress a few weeks ago claiming, “[T]he standard is to – in every case – is to keep that family together as long as operationally possible.” And, her spokesperson recently stated, “DHS does not have a policy of separating families at the border for deterrence purposes.”

Yet, an internal memo obtained by the Washington Post shows top officials at the three immigration components at DHS recommending an agency-wide practice of prosecuting all parents accompanied by their children who enter without authorization – a practice that requires the separation of parents from children – in hopes of deterring future arrivals. The memo also explains that this harmful policy for children was already implemented in New Mexico and West Texas for five months last year, precisely to show a deterrent effect.

In addition, according to government data obtained by the New York Times, the agency has already separated 700 children from parents, including over 100 children under the age of 4.

Dr. Kraft adds, “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.”

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a new project of America’s Voice, said:

“It is cruel for U.S. government officials to utilize harm to children as a tool to create a deterrent effect.  Secretary Nielson should immediately institute a policy that requires families to stay together and should firmly and publicly oppose the harmful recommendation by top immigration officials at DHS.”