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Time to get serious about reuniting families

Hundreds of children marched with their parents at the #FamiliesBelongTogether protests on June 30, 2017. Entire families, especially children, were at the forefront of the movement to advocate for the rights of the immigrant children that were separated from their parents when seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border under the "zero-tolerance" policy established by the Trump administration. Parents and children demand the reunification of the immigrant families and the humane treatment of the families in detention.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently suggested that those who oppose this administration’s practice of separating immigrant children from their parents are part of a “lunatic fringe” who live in “gated communities” (“Trump is making inroads in reducing legal immigration,” July 2).

On the contrary, Mr. Sessions. Many of us who oppose the current practice are professionals who specialize in helping children in crisis. On behalf of the children reportedly being held throughout Maryland, Baltimore Child Abuse Center, one of the nation’s oldest child advocacy centers, stands with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Maryland Chapter of the AAP, the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and the National Children’s Alliance in opposition to the Trump administration’s family separation policy on public health and child welfare grounds.

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“Children who are separated from their parents experience overwhelming fear, anxiety, loss of attachment, and terror,” said National Children’s Alliance executive director Teresa Huizar. “That is greatly exacerbated when the separation is sudden, inexplicable, and neither the child nor parent knows the location of, nor can communicate with, each other. Whatever the intended public policy outcome of such practices, the only sure outcome for children is trauma.”

Groundbreaking research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente in 1998 showed a strong link between “adverse child experiences” and chronic adult health problems. Citing that research, top officials at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University recently stated that “The harsh treatment of children at the border will affect their health and their lives for many years to come. The trauma to their parents is also devastating, and the lasting consequences to thousands of families will be profound.”

Unlike children who already live here, immigrant children often lack family or community resources they can draw upon and they often have no idea where they, or their parents, are located or will be transferred. The trauma of not knowing is profound. There are also reports that some of the separated, parentless children have experienced physical and sexual abuse along their journey to and within the U.S.

Congress is weighing several measures to address the practice of family detentions. Some of those measures are bipartisan, and we urge our officials to work together to help ensure that children are not torn from their families while awaiting the outcome of their asylum or residency claims.

We know from experience that leaders on both sides of the aisle can often drown out rhetorical nonsense and craft sound policies that help protect those who need it most. We urge members of Congress to do so immediately.

Adam Rosenberg and Joyce Lombardi, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, executive director and director of government relations and legal services for Baltimore Child Abuse Center.

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