Letter to the Editor: A humanitarian crisis here in America
I’m a pediatrician. I first met the eight-year-old two weeks after his election. Her big, brown sorrowful eyes had a story behind them. With two of her siblings in tow, her parents brought her in because she’d suddenly starting peeing in her pants. I examined her. Vital signs were normal. Her exam was normal. I sent lab tests. Everything was normal. I had no idea what I was missing.
Was she bullied? Did someone hurt her? Had anything changed at home? What was behind her sorrowful eyes?
Her answer stunned me. “I’m afraid my mother will be deported and I will never see her again,” she very quietly whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“We keep the television off to prevent her from listening to the news,” her valiant mother confessed. Her calloused wrinkled fingers softly wiped away her daughter’s tears. This mother had two jobs and had been working her whole life to give her children the life she never had. She was in pursuit of the American Dream.
The pieces of the puzzle finally clicked into place. News highlighting the new administration’s plan to deport undocumented immigrants and the inflammatory rhetoric of the campaign had become a terrifying reality. Trump was a reality.
I pondered. Children at this age worry about being liked at school or how many friends they have. They get nervous about next weekend’s sports tournament or this Friday’s spelling test. A child is not supposed to live in fear of having their family ripped away from them. This 8 year-old girl was afraid of “la migra” and she had started peeing on herself.
In the subsequent weeks, kids came to the clinic with everything from headaches to abdominal pain to panic attacks – all stemming from the possibility of what deportation would mean for their families. I placed numerous referrals to child psychiatry and social work, but it was not enough to counteract the trauma they were experiencing. Fast forward to July 2019 and Trump’s threats for nationwide ICE raids continue to traumatize families and children.
America, the land of the free and the mother of human rights, has digressed. The inhumane treatment of detained children at the border is beyond appalling and shameful. A humanitarian crisis on U.S. soil seems unimaginable in the year 2019. However, our nation has voluntary chosen to traumatize innocent children by caging them in toxic environments as if they were anything less than human.
How are children not allowed to sleep or shower? How are children not allowed to have toothpaste? How are children kept in overcrowded cages? How many more deaths have there been? The United States of America is not only allowing this, it is the perpetrator. Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” What a revelation for America to make in this day and age, especially for a country founded on Christian principles. Where has your soul traveled to, America?
I wake up in the morning to my alarm clock, rush to put on my scrubs, and head to the hospital to provide care as a pediatrician for children of all colors, faiths, and walks of life. Nothing matters other than making them better. This privilege of providing care for children was only made possible through the support of my Mexican immigrant parents, who one day over 30 years ago left all they knew in pursuit of the American Dream. They were given a chance.
Imagine being one of these children detained at the border, all alone, under those horrific conditions, given no chance at all. Do you have children? Do you have nieces or nephews? Do you know any child? Every immigrant in this county could have been my 8-year-old patient who was peeing on herself.
The racist, xenophobic, inflammatory rhetoric and actions of our government must come to an end immediately. This is not a joke or a game. We our dealing with the precious lives of children. Put yourself in their shoes. Please stand up, raise your voice, and advocate for these innocent children. The time is now. Children are children no matter where they come from.