Border Crisis:Senator Markey, EBNHC Administrators, Healthcare Professionals Talk About the Health Impacts of Separating Children from Families at the Border

Flanked by the state’s leading doctors, psychiatrists and pediatricians U.S. Senator Edward Markey delivered an emotional speech discussing the health impacts on children and families caused by separating children from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico.

The press conference last Friday outside the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Maverick Square followed an hour long roundtable discussion between Markey and leading healthcare professionals and EBNHC staff and administrators.

Following the discussion Markey emerged with some harsh words for the Trump Administration and U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions’ ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy.

“Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled the Trump administration’s new, so-called “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy,” said Markey. “This policy refers all adults who improperly cross the southwest border for federal prosecution — regardless of whether they came to this land fleeing violence, poverty, or persecution.”

Markey called the Zero Tolerance policy an anti-immigrant dragnet that is literally ‘ripping children from their parents’ arms’ and separating them as their mothers and fathers are taken into custody.

Over the past five weeks, due to the Administration’s new policy, over 2,300 children have been separated from their mothers and fathers.

Markey said that the as separations continue the magnitude of trauma to children and families is soft-peddled by the President and Sessions.

“Many of these immigrant families are trying to escape violence, trauma, and adversity in search of a healthier, more secure life,” said Markey. “It is unconscionable that the Trump administration’s policies are not only compounding the anxiety and hardship these children have already experienced, but are potentially setting them up for a lifetime of adverse health outcomes.”

Markey said research indicates that repeated and compounding traumatic experiences – much like what these children have already likely experienced in their young lives – can negatively impact the overall health and wellness of these children as they age, including a higher risk of premature death.

Citing medical research, Markey said toxic stress – which occurs when a child’s stress response system is consistently stimulated in the absence of supportive, reliable relationships, especially during the most critical years of child development – can increase the risk of mental illness, substance use disorders, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

“What could we otherwise think when a breastfeeding newborn is ripped away from its mother? Or when a toddler is taken from a father as it learns to walk?,” asked Markey. “We’ve all heard the audio recordings of children crying, and wailing, and pleading in detention centers for their parents. Their cries went unanswered. Their pain went untouched.”

Events that are unfolding on the U.S. border, Markey said, is why numerous physician organizations like the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Physicians have opposed Trump’s family separation policy, citing the irreparable emotional and physiological damage traumatic experiences and toxic stress can have on these children.

“The American people recognized the heinous suffering this administration was inflicting on vulnerable immigrants and are speaking out to say  ‘this will not stand’,” said Markey. “People from across the Commonwealth and country marched, and protested, and shouted, and resisted — until finally, even President Trump could not ignore it. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order he says addresses the problem he created. It does no such thing. The executive order does not rescind the zero tolerance policy. It reaffirms it. If the President has doubled down on prosecuting all parents as criminals, it is unclear whether these barbaric family separations will in fact stop. And if, as the President claims this executive order requires, families be kept together, then children — some as young as newborns — would end up incarcerated with their parents in criminal custody.”

Markey said President Trump has simply traded the cage he is putting children into and families and children don’t belong in jail for seeking refuge.

“That is an abomination,” said Markey. “Long ago, this country decided that the indefinite detention of children would not stand. The Flores Agreement — a landmark settlement from 1997 —established basic protections for how immigrant children must be treated in our care. Now, President Trump has created a crisis that threatens the Flores Agreement and would undermine the humanitarian protections it provided. Worse still, President Trump is asking the Pentagon to carry out his cold-blooded order of indefinite detention. He has instructed the Secretary of Defense to provide existing military brigs or to construct new military facilities to lock up these families. This disgraceful directive harkens back to the internment camps of World War II — one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history. Let’s be clear, President Trump first manufactured this crisis at the border, and his new executive order makes it worse. The cruelty is not over — it is just better disguised.”

Markey pointed out that it has long been the stance of the U.S. that we do not keep children in jails or military prisons and we do not criminalize asylum seekers.

“We welcome immigrants for their contributions. We seek immigrants for their talents,” said Markey. “We proudly remember our families came here across a border—whether land or water—knowing this country meant a new start. We are better than this. We must be better than this.”

Following his remarks, one reporter asked Dr. Lisa Fortuna, a leading child and adolescent psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center whether or not separating children from their parents amounts to child abuse.

“I have been asked this question several times and I would say if I encountered this type of treatment of children in any other setting I feel that I would have to call Child Protective Services and report the treatment,” said Dr. Fortuna.

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