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Separation of families at U.S. border will have lasting effects on children, experts warn

Since April 19, two thousand children have been forcibly removed from their parents by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. The agents are acting on a new policy directive by the Trump administration, which has ordered “zero tolerance,” prosecuting all people who cross the border into the U.S. illegally.

The border between the U.S. and Mexico.
A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector. [March 12, 2007 photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde / US Army]
Scientists say that the policy will create long-lasting damage for those families affected. There are also immediate consequences, which manifest as physical symptoms of stress, as children experience elevated heart rates and increased production of stress hormones. These hormones undermine the brain’s ability to transmit messages, eventually altering or destroying brain neurons entirely. These physical and psychological effects would be severely detrimental to anyone, but to children, they are simply “catastrophic,” as Charles Nelson of Harvard Medical School told the Washington Post. Countless studies have already proven the long-term harm of these separations, leaving much of the medical community alarmed at the effects of the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” rule. Organizations representing more than 250,000 doctors have spoken against the policy.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of former U.S. Attorneys wrote to the Justice Department, urging cessation of the policy, arguing that in the past, exceptions were granted when necessary to prevent the routine separation of children from their parents.

Demonstrations protesting the practice have popped up across the country, from the U.S.-Mexico border itself to ICE offices in Portland, Oregon. The administration itself has repeatedly changed its narrative surrounding its involvement and control over the policy, but is ultimately doubling down.

In a recent interview, former CBP Commissioner and Global Resilience Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow Gil Kerlikowske weighed in on the policy. “It’s heartbreaking not only to tear these children away from their mothers and fathers but I am very concerned about the effect that it would have on these border patrol agents,” he told PBS NewsHour’s John Yang. For the full interview, click here.

Sources:

Facing outcry over family separations, DHS chief says ‘We will not apologize’ – The Washington Post

What separation from parents does to children: ‘The effect is catastrophic’ – The Washington Post

Former top federal prosecutors call on Sessions to end ‘zero tolerance’ at border – CNN

‘Free our children now’ – On the U.S.-Mexico border, activists protest separation of immigrant families – PBS News Hour

#OccupyICEpdx Vigil to End ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ dividing families – KBOO