Of the many tweets sent by President Trump, one of the most misleading ones ever was a recent tweet demanding that Democrats put an end to the “horrible law” separating children from immigrant parents who are seeking asylum at the border. This tweet was in response to a growing backlash against heart-rending stories of children, including screaming toddlers and preschoolers who, as a result of a new policy directive (not a law) issued by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are being ripped from the arms of their mothers and fathers and carted off, sometimes hundreds of miles away, with no clear information given to frantic parents as to where they are, who is taking care of them or how to get them back.
In answer to a growing public outcry as to what exactly is happening to them, Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, callously said, “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” The worst “or whatever” to date of ICE’s ill-planned caretaking efforts for the children taken into their custody appears to include losing nearly 1,500 of them; children who, according to testimony at a recent congressional hearing, are now unaccounted for, some of whom may have ended up in the hands of human traffickers.
If we care about the future well-being of our nation, we need to be paying much closer attention to what is happening right now to so many children through a lens of the developmental impact of trauma. There is a rapidly growing body of scientific research documenting the lifelong impact of early trauma on physical, mental and behavioral health. Separating children from their parents causes enduring physical and mental harm by disrupting the family relationship, which lies at the heart of who we are as human beings. The Trump administration is squarely on the wrong side of both human decency and the emerging science on child development. Research flooding in from multiple disciplines — neurobiology, endocrinology, immunology and genetics/epigenetics — woven together shows that early experiences have a profound impact on human biology and how a child’s basic systems physiologically get set up. This is especially true with infants and toddlers when a sense of security and attachment to their primary caregivers is developmentally essential to building a solid foundation for lifelong social, emotional, behavioral and physical health and the capacity for lifelong learning and complex thinking.
Make no mistake about it; the situation for all these children is dire, especially for the littlest ones. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, showed up this past week in Brownsville, Texas at an old Walmart with blacked-out glass doors and windows that is now serving as a detention center for immigrant children taken from their parents. He made the trip after his office’s attempt to set up a tour of the facility was denied. He was not only barred from entering the locked building, the staff actually called the police for assistance in keeping him out, causing Merkley to ask, “What are they hiding about the conditions these innocent children are being held in?”
The cynicism and hypocrisy of Trump and all his self-declared “family values” Republican enablers is stunning. We have the first lady recently launching her “Be Best” campaign calling for kindness to all children and promoting comprehensively attending to their emotional and physical health. On the very same day, Sessions announced that the children, as young as 18 months, of parents entering the country illegally will be taken hostage at the border and used as pawns in efforts to deter desperate families seeking asylum from war, famine, drug cartels and other atrocities and who are hoping for a better life for their children from entering the country.
This latest human indignity playing out at our borders is only one example of Trump’s disregard for the basic needs of children. Unfortunately he is aided and abetted in his harsh family policies by House and Senate Republicans, including my congressman, Devin Nunes, and the other 13 California House Republicans who have totally abdicated their constitutional mandate to ride herd on an out-of-control president at a time when we have never needed vigorous oversight more.
And, in response to growing public outrage over the images of terrorized children and their heartbroken parents at our nation’s borders, Trump is trying to shift the blame onto Democrats, calling on them via tweet to “end the horrible law “ separating children from their parents at the border. A “law” that Democrats aren’t responsible for inside a crippled Congress they don’t control.
Meredith Wiley, J.D., M.P.A, co-author with Robin Karr Morse of “Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998; Second Edition, 2013) and “Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma In Adult Disease” (Basic Books, 2012)