Perhaps it’s because my daughter starts kindergarten next week and her father and I are trying to figure out ways to have one parent either drop her off or pick her up. Maybe it’s the fact that I remember the relief of seeing my mother’s face after a particularly hard day at school.
But I wasn’t the only one moved by the image of a little girl crying into her hands after learning her parents were among the over 680 people arrested during her first day of school because they illegally applied and were illegally hired to work in the U.S.
In addition to feeling sorry for the young girl, I started to worry about the mark that and other incidents of separation are doing to the psyches of young people who will likely be Americans in the future, the patients you will all face at some point or another.
Many providers spoke out against a rule finalized Monday that will certainly drive immigrants away from receiving care. The Trump administration continues to criminalize immigration, meaning many immigrant children will continue to face unspeakable fear without much access to affordable or comprehensive healthcare. Providers will be left to determine their role in healing these fractured minds, hearts and bodies. Countless studies show how traumatic incidents in childhood physically change the brain.
I didn’t need studies. I grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Chicago. There were a few kids whose parents were in jail, a few others whose parents or guardians had been shot to death, still others who showed up to school with the physical marks of trauma and others who witnessed it. These kids were either more aggressive or painfully withdrawn, resigned to living their parents’ lives or under immense pressure to chart a new course. Granted, many kids show these behaviors as they endure adolescence—trauma or not.
I can’t relate much to the adversity that would lead someone to walk thousands of miles to an unknown land with few or no prospects, but I can relate to the childhood fear of losing a parent.
Before my mother learned she was pregnant with me at 45, she thought she was going through menopause. Around 6 years old, I began visiting my parent’s bedroom nightly to check if they were still alive. I worried about losing their love and protection but also in that self-centered way children think, I panicked over what would happen to me if they were gone. If those memories shaped my psyche so distinctly, how much more would the very real fear of coming home to an empty house affect immigrant children?
Maybe that’s what resonated the most when I saw that girl. “I need my dad … mommy,” the 11-year-old pleaded after learning they’d been arrested. She was reportedly reunited with her mother shortly after a video of her went viral.
While there are fewer unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. workforce than a decade ago, the latest studies by the Pew Research Center found that about 3.9 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade in the nation were children of immigrants here illegally. So now we have millions of children who, if they read the news or hear adults speak frankly, worry about growing up without their parents or guardians.
The American Psychological Association identified the long-term emotional and behavioral outcomes of being the child of an immigrant as post-traumatic stress disorder. These children have difficulty forming relationships, experience feelings of persecution, have distrust of institutions and authority figures, and act out in school.
The public charge rule finalized last week ostensibly prevents immigrants from seeking healthcare through public programs, lest they risk jeopardizing their chance at citizenship. So what will providers do to stem any negative impact? In opposing the rule, providers cite regression in population health efforts.
As industry leaders continue to craft their responses, I encourage you to think long term and share your solutions with us, through email and online comments in related stories.