I am not sure that this letter will persuade voters to change their votes regarding the upcoming presidential election. However, I feel an obligation to express my view that the Trump policy of separating children from parents who present at our border is illegal, mean-spirited, ill-conceived and severely harmful to children and families. This policy continues in some fashion now and is among several reasons to oppose Trump’s re-election.
Based on our own government reports, since the summer of 2017 at least 5,556 children have been separated from their parents. Many parents have been sent back to their countries of origin while children remained here. The United States Government Accountability Office reported in February 2020, “it is unclear the extent to which Border Patrol has accurate records of separated (families) in its data system” and therefore, many of these children will never be reunited with their parents. The consequences of this policy and these practices are profoundly detrimental to these children. Both the American Psychological Association and The American Academy of Pediatrics have criticized this practice as traumatic for children with lasting consequences. A group of psychiatrists from the organization Physicians for Human Rights examined 26 of these children and adults and concluded that this action constitutes torture. Well established research indicates that children who experience this profound level of trauma will have substantially more medical problems, mental health problems and difficulties throughout their lives. Consequences include severe psychological distress, anxiety, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, withdrawal, aggressive behavior and decline in educational achievement. The longer the parent and child are separated, the greater the child’s symptoms of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
This policy of separation violates fundamental American values. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That statement is the central value upon which our country was founded and reflects our commitment to human rights for all people. The United States has long championed human rights across the world as reflected by many actions including the rebuilding of Europe after World War II with the Marshall Plan and advocating for human rights for citizens in communist countries well illustrated by Ronald Reagan’s statement of “tear down this wall.” These human rights apply to all citizens of the world, especially to those who are vulnerable such as immigrants fleeing oppression.
This policy of separation violates fundamental Christian values. Jesus emphasized that the great commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. He also implored us to be compassionate to all: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”, Matthew 25:30. Both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament which reflect Jesus’ teachings are clear and consistent when it comes to how we should treat strangers or immigrants — that they be welcomed, respected and cared for.
This policy of separating parents and children who present at our border seeking asylum is illegal. Our laws require us to conduct a fair hearing for those who seek asylum. This is clearly a challenging task, but it is our law. Miles Taylor, former Chief of Staff at Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, stated that President Trump ordered federal employees to close the border to all, including asylum seekers. Furthermore, he pre-emptively told those federal employees that if they were charged and convicted of violating the law, he would pardon them. This is a direct violation of the law and an effort to obstruct justice.
Making improvements to our immigration policies will take clear bipartisan support and will be quite challenging. Nevertheless, the Trump policy of separating immigrant children and parents seeking asylum at our border is simply wrong. All of us already know what psychological research confirms — that separating parents from children is extremely detrimental to families. Imagine if children in your family were separated from parents without consent and with no plan to reunite them. Trump’s policy severely harms children, is illegal and violates our most basic and fundamental American and Christian values.
Paul Kettlewell is a pediatric psychologist. He lives in Danville.