President Donald Trump's new immigration orders are harmful and will worsen the plight of children fleeing for their lives, pediatricians said Wednesday.
And they will scare the children of immigrants already living in the country, causing toxic stress, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a strongly worded statement.
"The Executive Orders signed today are harmful to immigrant children and families throughout our country," AAP President Fernando Stein said. "Many of the children who will be most affected are the victims of unspeakable violence and have been exposed to trauma.
"Children do not immigrate, they flee," Stein said. "They are coming to the U.S. seeking safe haven in our country and they need our compassion and assistance. Broad scale expansion of family detention only exacerbates their suffering."
One Trump order would stop federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities — a loose term that refers to communities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation — unless the money is related to law enforcement.
"These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic," the order reads. "Many aliens who illegally enter the United States and those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety."
The action also directs the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol agents and would triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
A separate order redirects Homeland Security money to erect a "very large" wall on the southern border with Mexico, along with more detention facilities along the border.
Stein said kids deserve to be healthy and safe.
"Far too many children in this country already live in constant fear that their parents will be taken into custody or deported, and the message these children received today from the highest levels of our federal government exacerbates that fear and anxiety," Stein said.
"No child should ever live in fear. When children are scared, it can impact their health and development. Indeed, fear and stress, particularly prolonged exposure to serious stress — known as toxic stress — can harm the developing brain and negatively impact short- and long-term health."
Dr. Julie Linton has seen it firsthand.
"I had a child I took care of in clinic a few months ago who came in complaining of headaches," said Linton, a pediatrician in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Immigrant Health Special Interest group.
"He said he was told in school that his parents would be sent away and that’s when his headaches started."
Linton takes a deep breath when asked about the argument that parents should not have brought their children to the U.S. illegally in the first place.
"As a mother myself, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in a circumstance where I was fearing for the life, health and education of my child," she said.
"What I see when I have these families in front of me is fearful parents with fearful children striving to have a better life, to have a safe life, and to have a hopeful life," she added.
"It's not a choice. If you are fleeing violence threatening the life of your child, you're not making a choice. You're making a decision to protect your baby."
Many schools have reported that children of immigrants — even those whose parents are established citizens — became fearful after Trump's election.
"We urge President Trump and his Administration to ensure that children and families who are fleeing violence and adversity can continue to seek refuge in our country. Immigrant children and families are an integral part of our communities and our nation, and they deserve to be cared for, treated with compassion, and celebrated," Stein said.