As the White House doubles down on a zero-tolerance immigration policy that has led to the forced separation of families, medical experts are sounding alarms about the potentially irreparable psychological damage that could plague the children affected.
A number of prominent medical organizations, from the American Psychological Association (APA) to the American Academy of Pediatrics, have joined a chorus of regulatory bodies, lawmakers and activists who have condemned the policy. The APA’s president and CEO also sent a letter to President Donald Trump on June 14, urging him to reverse the policy given “multiple harmful effects of parent-child separation on children’s emotional and psychological development and well-being.”
Those harmful effects may run the gamut from future depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to violent tendencies, substance abuse and difficulty forming relationships down the line, according to Dr. Jeff Temple, a professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch and a board member of the Texas Psychological Association. And though not every child who experiences trauma will develop these conditions, Temple says the kids in question, who have likely faced other stressors prior to being taken from their parents, may be particularly at risk.
“It’s a three-fold stress: the reason they left their country, the journey [to the U.S.] and now being, at a vulnerable time, separated from their parents,” Temple says. “Really what that amounts to is child abuse. These kids will experience negative and irreparable harm.”