- AAP National Conference & Exhibition 2017
Despite rhetoric, it is not illegal for children and families to come to our border and seek protection from violence, Julie Linton, MD, FAAP, co-chair of the AAP Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, told attendees of Saturday’s plenary. The Academy has taken swift action to be first, right and credible in its response to recent immigration policy changes affecting children.
“All of us will have the opportunity and the good fortune to care for children in immigrant families,” she said, noting that one in four children in the U.S. lives in an immigrant family and nine out of 10 are U.S. citizens. Almost 6 million children under age 18 live with a parent or family member who is undocumented.
Some of Dr. Linton’s patients have fled violence in Mexico, Syria and Kenya only to arrive to plans to build “the wall,” travel bans, canceled visas and border security changes. Soon, a massive raid known as Operation Mega may target the interior U.S. Other possible threats include federal funding cuts to cities that offer safe spaces (sanctuary cities) and denying U.S. entry to anyone needing public assistance (e.g., Medicaid or nutrition assistance).
The changing policy landscape has made it increasingly difficult for families who often are fleeing for their lives, she said.
For example, Hurricane Harvey brought many people together. But those without resources may have suffered more, she said. Fifty families were left by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a bus stop during the hurricane, and the buses were not running.
When AAP leaders visited a Customs and Border Protection center detaining children in Texas last year, they saw firsthand what children endured. They witnessed fencing from floor to ceiling, lights on 24 hours a day and heard children describe how they were fed frozen sandwiches.
“This is not how we welcome children seeking safety. Immigration should be a nonpartisan issue,” she said. “Pediatricians are uniquely poised to provide credible, caring messages to support immigrant families, from the bedside to the community to the broader public sphere.”
Resources include the AAP toolkit (http://bit.ly/1fgRTeB); National Immigration Law Center toolkits (https://healthtoolkit.nilc.org/login/; registration required); the AAP Immigrant Health Special Interest Group (http://bit.ly/1ShAfIZ); and Kids in Need of Defense (https://supportkind.org/). Pediatricians also can help build resilience and mitigate toxic stress by encouraging families to read, talk and sing to their children.
“Every single one of us has a role to empower all children, including our own, to speak up against hate,” Dr. Linton said.
Follow Dr. Linton on Twitter @juliemlinton.