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Mental Health Crisis at Border Requires Immediate Attention
July 9, 2019
By Paul Gionfriddo, MHA President and CEO
As more stories of the horrors of child detention camps emerge, compassion, concern, and respect for human life should compel leaders across the nation to speak out. Adults and children are being harmed at our border, many in ways we can’t easily see. This is in part because we haven’t been allowed to see. But from what people have seen and we all know, it is the children who may be harmed the most.
What is happening on our borders is not just about managing border security. As valid a concern as that is, no measure of border security can excuse taking children from their parents and holding them in squalor while public officials fight over immigration policy from the vantage point of two thousand miles away.
This was not happening five and ten years ago when border crossings were a bigger challenge to our country. And no law that says families can be held for only a limited time should be perverted to force children to live in squalid conditions.
What we are doing is traumatizing children for life. Many become physically and mentally ill as a result of this trauma. Too many will lose their lives to this trauma. The pictures that are being painted for us by those who have witnessed the conditions in these detention camps are shocking. But we don’t have to see pictures to know what is happening.
Children are being harmed in service to political gain. This is purely immoral, if not technically illegal.
What matters is that it be stopped at once. Whether we build a wall or don’t build a wall. Whether we enhance border patrols or don’t enhance them. Whether we give these and other children pathways to citizenship or not.
What we cannot continue to do is to take some of the most fragile and vulnerable people within our borders and treat them as if we cannot see them – as if they don’t matter.
They do. People – especially young people – who experience significant trauma are affected by that trauma. They cannot be ignored while undergoing that trauma. They cannot be expected to recover on their own. And they certainly cannot just be forgotten when the crisis finally clears – a month from now, an election from now, or decades from now.
Today, the President and members of Congress need to work together to put an end to this horror. Many of them have been to the border. They have witnessed what is going on. Now they are back in town, and they can share their stories with colleagues. There is time to act.
The health and mental health of these children is at stake. And so too is the health of all those impacted by trauma.
If they do nothing to stop this, they will own the outcome. And they all will be accountable for that.