Thousands of medical voices from across the United States have joined forces with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) to urge the Trump administration to immediately halt the separation of migrant and asylum seeking children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
A letter, addressed to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, signed by more than 5,000 experts across the health and child development fields, and calling for swift action, was delivered today to the administration.
“It should not be U.S. policy to traumatize children, and especially not as a form of indirect punishment of their parents,” the letter reads.
“Forced separation of children and parents, especially in connection with the detention of a parent, can constitute an adverse childhood experience, which research links with disrupted neurodevelopment, resulting in social, emotional, and cognitive impairment, and even negative intergenerational effects,” the letter adds.
Homer Venters, MD, director of programs for PHR, said the letter invokes the administration’s legal obligation to protect children rather than harm them, and that medical evidence of the negative effects of separation cannot be ignored.
“Separating children from their parents, except in extreme circumstances to protect the child, violates international and federal standards for the treatment of children. Forced separation risks inflicting profound psychological harm. Conversely, medical research shows unequivocally that parents are a vital buffer for children coping with severe stress and that a strong predictor of successful adaptation for children is family support,” Venters said.
Kathryn Hampton, PHR’s Asylum Network program officer, said separation from parents has been shown to be linked with higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children.
“For children, separation results in a low-support environment which places them at increased risk of PTSD and depressive disorders. The negative impact on the cognitive and emotional functioning of the affected children can continue into adulthood, and contribute to lower academic achievement, attachment difficulties, and poor mental health,” Hampton said.
The letter additionally cites evidence that, among refugees, the effect of family separation could inflict psychological trauma tantamount to the “experience of being beaten and tortured,” underscoring the gravity of the administration’s new policy.
The signatories include physicians, nurses, psychologists, and other medical and mental health professionals from across the country.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.