Doctors oppose policy that splits kids from caregivers at border

Kevin B. O'Reilly
Editor
AMA Wire
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A policy of universally separating children from their parents or other caregivers entering U.S. borders “will do great harm” to children and could “create negative health impacts that will last an individual’s entire lifespan,” says a resolution whose recommendations were adopted at the 2018 AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The resolution came in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s new policy referring all unlawful border crossers to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution. The policy makes no exception for parents or caregivers seeking asylum from persecution who enter with children, according to the resolution.

The children are then treated as unaccompanied minors, separated from their parents or caregivers and sent to facilities administered by the federal government. The policy of separating children from their caregivers “only serves to dramatically exacerbate” the stress that families seeking refuge in the U.S. are already experiencing, the resolution says.

“Children leaving the chaos of their home countries should not be further traumatized by the U.S. government policy of separating children from their caregiver,” said AMA Board Member Bobby Mukkamala, MD. “It’s inhumane and risks scarring children for the rest of their lives.”

The AMA House of Delegates adopted new policy for the AMA to:

  • Oppose the practice of separating migrating children from their caregivers in the absence of immediate physical or emotional threats to the child’s well-being.

Delegates also directed the AMA to:

  • Urge the federal government to withdraw its policy of requiring separation of migrating children from their caregivers, and instead, give priority to supporting families and protecting the health and well-being of the children within those families.

Read more news coverage from the 2018 AMA Annual Meeting.

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Comments

The AMA statement is absolutely on target and consistent with AAP policy statement: “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly opposes the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, which was released by the U.S. House of Representatives leadership today. Instead of putting children first by ending the harmful policy of family separation at the border once and for all, this legislation strips children of protections designed for their safety and well-being and exposes more children, not fewer, to detention, including long-term detention. Pediatricians have repeatedly spoken out against the detention of immigrant children; this legislation is not the answer and puts children at greater risk of harm. “The AAP urges the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to immediately end the policy of family separation. Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians – protecting and promoting children’s health. We know that family separation causes irreparable harm to children. This type of highly stressful experience can disrupt the building of children's brain architecture. Prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can lead to lifelong health consequences. “Detention of children is not a solution to the forced separation of children from their parents at the U.S. border. A 2017 AAP policy statement urges that immigrant children seeking safe haven in the United States should never be placed in detention facilities. Studies of detained immigrants have shown that children and parents may suffer negative physical and emotional symptoms from detention, including anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Conditions in U.S. detention facilities, which include forcing children to sleep on cement floors, open toilets, constant light exposure, insufficient food and water, no bathing facilities, and extremely cold temperatures, are traumatizing for children. These are not appropriate places for children. “We must remember that immigrant children are still children. Protections for children in law or by the courts exist because children are uniquely vulnerable and are at high risk for trauma, trafficking, and violence. The Academy urges the U.S. House of Representatives to reject the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act.” ### The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. As practitioners we need to be active and vocal "to do no harm".
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