Children detainees must be reunited with families and given access to proper health care

June 29, 2018
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Patient Care 

The federal government’s recently enacted “zero-tolerance” policy of enforcement of immigration has sparked widespread outrage and condemnation from health care providers, for medical reasons.

Like the American Medical Association and many others, the California Medical Association (CMA) opposes the administration’s detention and separation of an estimated 2,300 immigrant children from their families and expresses concerns about the irreparable and lasting physical and mental health consequences of this policy.

Recent reports detail the effects of what family separation can do to these children, including irreparable harm to lifelong development by disrupting a child’s brain architecture, toxic stress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and heart disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently stated that forced separation of children from families is child abuse. A June 2018 report on the Department of Homeland Security’s detention practices in the facilities that house these children in Texas depict children facing sexual assault, harassment, lack of legal representation and inadequate medical and mental health care.

This reported lack of transparency at detention facilities, and allegations of improper medical treatment, including forcibly giving children a range of psychotropic drugs, is unacceptable.

And while President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order to end the forced separation of immigrant families, the order created no process for the reunification of families, leaving many of them stuck in limbo while courts and bureaucrats attempt to track down their parents and guardians. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego recently ordered the Trump Administration to reunite families because “the executive order included “subjective” standards for separating minors from their parents and the government has only stated it will reunite children with their families for removal from the country.”

This kind of indefinite detention of children – even when accompanied by their families – is not a viable or healthy solution.

As physicians, we have an obligation to ensure that everyone in California has access to medical care provided by qualified health care providers. We also have a solemn obligation to identify threats to the health and welfare of the public, especially children.

The health of these children should not be a partisan issue. Children’s lives are at stake. We urge our member physicians, other health care practitioners and the public to continue advocating for a quick and sensible resolution to this unnecessary public health crisis.

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