AVA's Statement on Immigrant Children
Immigrant children face a number of stressful experiences including: loss of previous home, possibly fleeing from dangerous situations, unsafe travel, and potential separation from their parents. These situations pose concerns for children worldwide. Areas of recent concern include children and families fleeing the war in Syria, and children from Central America arriving at the southern US border.
A number of organizations have written statements, policies, and articles about the effect on children – particularly centered on the US border problems. The AVA joins in the concerns expressed by these organizations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (Linton et al., 2017) has pointed out the potential effects on the developing brain for children separated from their parents. While children are often justifiably separated from abusive parents (both as immigrants, and every day for child abuse situations in US courts), in many instances at the US border children are separated because of the legal status of their parents, not abuse. As Zucker and Greene (2018) point out, a number of behavioral problems may occur – some of them serious. The policy of family separation creates at least 4 adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): emotional neglect, parental separation, possibly witnessing violence, and parental incarceration. This number of adverse childhood experiences can have life-long serious consequences on the health of the individual. Brain structure may also be affected along with genetic changes – which may not necessarily be undone. The young age of the child can magnify such damages.
In addition, such forced and unwarranted separations have effects on the parents and caregivers, and vicariously on the general public.
The AVA calls for:
1. Legislation to ensure that children are not unwarrantedly separated from their parents.
2. Legislation to ensure that children are not incarcerated with their parents, but that such families are treated with dignity and respect – both physically, environmentally, and emotionally.
3. The legislation should ensure that legislators have full access to facilities housing children and families so that transparency and accountability is assured.
4. That mental health services be available to children and their families given the probable negative circumstances of the situation, and especially to any children and adults who have been separated by government policy.
5. Public policy pronouncements for the general public that assure that such situations will not occur in the future.
6. Legislation to remedy issues about paths for citizenship and deportation.
While these steps are most specific for the US border situation, they also apply for immigrant children worldwide. Therefore we also recommend that:
1. The United Nations address the health effects of separation of children and parents and make specific recommendations.
2. Further research should be conducted on the long term effects on children and families.
Linton JM, Griffin M, Shapiro AJ, AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNITY PEDIATRICS. Detention of Immigrant Children. Pediatrics. 2017;139(5):e20170483. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2017/03/09/peds.2017-0483
Zucker H, Greene D. Potential child health consequences of the federal policy separating immigrant children from their parents. JAMA. 2018. E1-E2.
American Psychological Association Immigration Fact Sheet http://www.apa.org/advocacy/immigration/fact-sheet.pdf
American Bar Association. https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2018/05/statement_of_hilarie.html
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. https://www.centerforchildpolicy.org/post/apsac-ccp-joint-position-statement-on-separating-children-and-families-at-the-us-border
American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/advocacy/immigration/fact-sheet.pdf