Finally, a cause we can all agree to take action on. We means everyone: Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Jews and Muslims and Atheists and everyone in between. Follow to the end for specific, easy actions you as a physician and a mother can take to help stop this morally repugnant horror.
The issue? Around the world, we are seeing a horrific trend: children are increasingly being used as tools in political conflict. In Syria, children are used as human shields. In Afghanistan, children are recruited and used as soldiers. In Nigeria, children are recruited as suicide bombers. In Myanmar, children are tortured to send a political message.
Here in the United States, we take children as political hostages.
This is no exaggeration nor overstatement. This Saturday, our President stated that he is using migrant children taken from their families as a political bargaining chip. Despite his repeated insistence, there is no law nor policy in place stating that migrant families should be separated at the border, only President Trump's personal mandate.
How could such a horrible thing happen here, in our democracy? In Spring 2017, Trump's Homeland Security Advisor John Kelly proposed separating all children from their parents as they sought shelter, “in order to deter more
movement along this terribly dangerous network”, as reported in last week's New York Times.
More recently, Trump's senior policy advisor Stephen Miller reiterated that this is all Trump's doing:
“It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
It is now well-documented for the world to see and judge. In using children as political hostages, our country has stooped to the same lows as terrorists and dictatorships in Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Laos, and Myanmar.
Of course there is growing outrage against Trump's disgusting agenda. Many Republicans leaders are stepping forward to condemn this administration's inhumane actions, and not only moderate stalwarts like former First Lady Bush and Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Even Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has gone on record, stating "President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call", as Monday morning's New York Times reports.
While he is unlikely to take any action, we can.
We are mothers and doctors. We are uniquely positioned to comprehend the psychological damage inflicted upon children who are forcibly removed from their caregivers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has vehemently opposed this as policy since it was first mentioned by Trump's administration last Spring, based on the known grave consequences to child development. Pediatricians are speaking out. AAP president Colleen Kraft described the heartbreaking grief of a toddler she witnessed at one detention center, and explained the effects of harmful toxic stress on children.
As the AAP's formal statement on The Detention of Immigrant Children recognizes:
"In accordance with internationally accepted rights of the child,
immigrant and refugee children should be treated with dignity and
respect and should not be exposed to conditions that may harm or
traumatize them. The Department of Homeland Security facilities do not
meet the basic standards for the care of children in residential
The American Psychological Association has also written a letter to the Trump administration in opposition to the policy:
"Families fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary in the United States are already under a tremendous amount of stress. Sudden and unexpected family separation, such as separating families at the border, can add to that stress, leading to emotional trauma in children. Research also suggests that the longer that parents and children are separated, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression are for children."
Yes, it's pretty clear that ripping innocent, frightened children from their parents and locking them in chain link cages is not in accordance with internationally accepted rights of the child. So what can we do about it?
As little or as much as you want. This can be simply clicking on a link to sign a petition or donate to a vetted charity, to calling your representatives, to writing an article for a local newspaper or blog... It's up to you. Here are some suggestions (and I personally did every single one of these this lovely Monday morning before my clinic started):
Petition to Donald Trump to stop separating families at the border: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/where-are-the-children
Petition to the Department of Homeland Security to stop separating families at the border: https://www.change.org/p/department-of-homeland-security-stop-tearing-families-apart
Petition to Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to stop separating families at the border: https://www.change.org/p/keep-them-together-stop-separating-children-from-their-families-at-the-u-s-border
KIND (Kids In Need of Defense) is a nonprofit that provides legal assistance children who would otherwise stand in court alone.
The Florence Project is a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to political detainees, including children, in Arizona.
The Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project is a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to refugees feeling violence seeking safety here int he U.S.
RAICES is a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to detainees and refugees, including children, in Texas.
Al Otro Lado is a binational nonprofit that provides legal assistance to families who have been separated, navigating the legal systems of Mexico and the United States to bring them back together. They also help deportees who have been abandoned in Mexico with resources including medical care.
Families Belong Together is organizing rallies and protests in opposition to separating families at the border. Check out their website to see what's happening next near you.
This is actually one of the most powerful things you can do. Call your representatives using any of the below easy methods. You'll probably get an answering machine, but if you get the machine or a person, say "My name is (your name) and I am opposed to separating families at the border. I am from (your zip code) in (your state). I do not need a response.":
Find your representatives in the House and then find their office phone number, and call.
Find your representatives in the Senate and then find their office phone number, and call.
Or just call the Capitol operator: 202-224-3121. This number will direct you to the Capitol switchboard.
When you call, ask to be connected to your senator or representative.
The operator will direct your call to their office.
Pending Legislation on this includes The Keep Families Together Act and The Help Separated Children Act .
Whichever of these relatively small actions you take, TALK about it, SHARE on social media, PUBLICIZE the cause. This is really powerful.
WRITE: You are a doctor. You have a platform. Your voice is heard. Please consider writing a letter to your editor, even if it's a small town newspaper. Consider writing an op-ed for a news outlet. Consider posting on a political website, as Sanjiv Sriram, MD did. Consider writing a guest post for a blog. I accept guest posts at my own personal blog www.generallymedicine.com , and the editor here at Mothers in Medicine does as well. Kevin, MD is another great place for physicians to share their educated, intelligent thoughts.
Whatever you do, DO SOMETHING. The policy of using children as a political tool is morally repugnant, and we as doctor-moms know this better than anyone. Please help to stop this moral slide into evil.