Deportation Raids Are a Public Health Crisis

As a pediatrician and mother, I feel a new wave of anger and heartbreak every time I hear of families ripped apart by deportation or traumatized by ICE raids. In my training as a physician, I have witnessed the effects of these policies on patients and families. I have seen the decrease in immigrant children accessing care at local health clinics due to parental fear of law enforcement raids. I then see those same patients in the emergency room, when lack of routine care has translated into life-threatening complications.

I remember with sadness the six-month-old boy requiring intense hospital treatment due to complications from a preventable breathing condition. I remember the look of fear on his older sister’s face, wondering if it was safe to be with her parents in a public building. Although it is easy to grow numb as the headlines increase in their ability to shock and horrify, I cannot ignore the children, parents and siblings I have met in my practice who now live daily with the consequences of a fear-based immigration policy.

The pain inflicted upon these children is not theoretical. There is strong evidence that undocumented parents are less likely to use health care services for themselves and their children, less likely to obtain social services to which their children are entitled and less likely to enroll in public preschool programs. These children stand only to suffer further as immigration raids escalate. Furthermore, the psychological damage suffered from this toxic stress has been shown to have serious and long-lasting effects. In recent studies, data from tens of thousands of individuals revealed that exposure to adverse childhood events greatly increases the risk for long-term physical, mental and behavioral issues.Stories such as the case of parents arrested by Border Patrol agents while awaiting their infant’s operation at the hospital, or six individuals arrested leaving a shelter at a local church, or a father detained after dropping his daughter off at school are not merely sensationalist news; they reflect the increasingly stark reality faced by the families and children cared for by physicians across the nation. These children and their families are real, and the physical and mental health effects of deportation raids are devastating.

In this increasingly partisan environment, it is tempting to relegate any controversial topic to the realm of politics and refuse to engage in a meaningful discussion regarding the intersection of health and social policy. However, in doing so, we ignore an essential reality: No child grows up in a vacuum, and immigration policies have as great an effect on the well-being of children and families as the care provided to them in the physician’s office. A lengthy debate on how geographic place of birth relates to citizenship is not needed to recognize that the current implementation of immigration policy lacks any grounding in basic humanistic standards. What has resulted, simply stated, is a public health crisis that must be urgently remedied.The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization that publishes guidelines followed by pediatricians across the nation, has released statements that highlight the connection between immigration raids and toxic stress. It has taken a strong stance against senseless and fear-based immigration and deportation policy, stating its mission is “to protect the health and well-being of all children — no matter where they or their parents were born.” In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that, “No child should ever live in fear. When children are scared, it can impact their health and development.” Its statement concludes, “Pediatricians stand with the immigrant families we care for and will continue to advocate that their needs are met and prioritized.” From this statement it’s clear that the American Academy of Pediatrics has come to the understanding that the issue of community-terrorizing immigration raids can no longer be pushed aside as “too political” — rather, it is a fundamental health issue that deeply affects the daily practice of pediatricians across the nation.

For those working outside of the health care field, I implore you to remember your commitment to doing right by the children in all our communities. One cannot pretend to support children and families while at the same time continuing to promote fear-based immigration policies that cause lasting harm.

And for my fellow health care providers in all fields, I urge you to realize that while there are steps we can take to protect immigrant patients within our clinics, these are not enough. On behalf of my fellow pediatricians and humanists, I urge you to reject the facade of being “apolitical” and call for an immediate end to immigration raids that tear down our mission to support all children and their families.