I called Child Protective Services in Washington, DC to report child abuse by the Trump regime. The law mandates that when pediatricians like me see or hear about children being abused, we report that abuse to authorities. Armed border guards are forcibly separating hundreds of immigrant children from their parents, many of whom are legally seeking asylum. In one instance, an infant was taken from a mother while breastfeeding. Another mother was forced to put her terrified toddler in a car seat and watch as border guards drove away with him. Other families are being told lies such as the guards are taking children to a nearby location for a photograph, food, clothing, and/or a shower. Then the parents are hauled to jail with zero information about if, how, or when they will be reunified with their children.
This is child abuse. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services are perpetrating terror upon children when they forcibly remove them from their parents who are not threats to anyone’s safety or health.
The trauma of being separated from parents, whether by force or deceit, has devastating health consequences. As pediatricians, we know the psychological and physical damage caused by exposure to toxic stress. Human brains, hormones, and entire organ systems are put in stressful survival modes during experiences endured by so many immigrant families: out-of-control gang violence, civil war, domestic abuse, and other dangerous oppression. All of that stress is compounded by the cruelty of armed government officials removing children from the one protective factor they still have: their parents.
The still-developing minds and bodies of children are particularly vulnerable, and the damage can be irreparable. Anxiety, depression, acute stress disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are just a few of the neurological and mental consequences. Other bodily consequences can include cardiovascular disease, increased risk of cancer, and exacerbations of pre-existing conditions like asthma and diabetes.
I am not the only doctor expressing concern. Pediatricians have visited the detention centers and shared what they witnessed. The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to advocate against policies of separation. Physicians submitted affidavits last month when the ACLU requested an injunction to reunite families and halt separations.
What made me call Child Protective Services was when I saw Attorney General Jeff Sessions grin as he had the audacity to read scripture justifying the cruelty, trauma, and abuse of immigrant children. Traumatized children and youth throughout America’s history have seen that sanctimonious smirk before. For centuries, enslaved children heard the misuse of scripture to justify their separation from parents as they were legally sold by smiling auctioneers. Federal officials grinned as Sessions did as they “assimilated” Native American children and gave them “religious” reasons for separating them from families and homelands. Japanese American children and families were given friendly sermons in internment camps. I was not there for those children, but I’m here now.
The woman I spoke to at Child Protective Services for Washington, DC told me they could not take action for children outside the district. She suggested contacting other authorities. Sounds like a plan. I am reporting child abuse to Congress and demanding an immediate halt to family separation. The Senate must pass the Keep Families Together Act and the HELP Separated Children Act without further delay. Our Representatives and Senators must hold the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services accountable.
These are basic duties and responsibilities we owe vulnerable children, regardless of their immigration status. As a pediatrician, if I failed to stop child abuse, I would likely be fired from my job. That is a reasonable consequence for members of Congress who refuse to help traumatized immigrant children.