I recently attended a Maternal Health Summit where presenters and attendees discuss ideas on how to support immigrant families and children born to immigrant mothers. As I pondered on some of the ways I could help, I realized that it was a very emotional topic for me personally. Like many immigrant women, my mother came to the United States to provide a better life for her children. As a researcher in maternal child and women’s health my observation of what is happening today with parents being detained, I can only ponder on the implications for this hurtful and painful action and its effect on a child’s development. 

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Research indicates that a child’s separation from their parent, when planned or unplanned, can cause significant stress; in some cases it is very traumatizing. I know this first hand because recently my daughter became overly stressed at school because she overheard a conversation about deportation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from a classmate. As a parent I try my best to be transparent. My children are aware that I and their father are both immigrants from Belize. My oldest daughter came home crying asking if her dad and I were going to get deported. The look on her innocent face made me so upset and scared for her as she grows up in this perils of immigration reform in America.

Fortunately for my daughter, we were able to calm her nerves because we let her know that, yes, we are indeed immigrants, but we are in the United States legally so she had no reason to be worried. This, however, is not the case for many American children who go home every day questioning their parents about their immigration status. Recently on the news I saw children crying because their parents were detained at their worksites. One young child worrying about how she would get her next meal or when she would see her father, the family’s breadwinner, again. As an immigrant mother with 3 American children I could never imagine dropping off my children for their first day of school and going to work for the day only to be picked up for deportation. This is a daily heartbreaking reality for many innocent American children born to immigrant mothers.

Knowing this new reality for many American children, I began looking at a few articles that explored separation around immigration. One study implied that such sudden and unplanned separations could lead to disruption of eating and sleeping habits, sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety in children (Chaudry et al., 2010). Besides these serious emotional consequences, children often suffer from an instantaneous loss of income, particularly in instances where the primary breadwinner is detained. Other studies implied that subsequent economic instability can have severe consequences to the child’s well-being (Barajas, Philipsen, & Brooks-Gunn, 2008; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2004). Poverty is associated with a number of negative social conditions, such as inadequate education and delayed cognitive development, which are crucial to success later in life (Ceballo, McLoyd, & Toyokawa, 2004). These poor American children are now in distress overload; they are in fear and being traumatized during the most important stages of development. When compared to their peers they are now most likely to have poorer life outcomes. 

Matthew 18:3-6 reads 3 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 6 If anyone causes one of these little ones -those who believe in me- to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” 

Children are supposed to be the light of the world. Their innocence bring joy and laughter to our homes. Today, Immigrants are being portrayed as if they are sucking the sweets of America which, in most cases, is absolutely false. The take away from the summit, in my interpretation, is that American children born to immigrant women are at higher risk to be separated from their mothers which is an injustice. It is not okay to do this to the little gifts that God has blessed us with on earth.

As the scriptures implied, those who turn a blind eye or are complicit and causes little ones to stumble will deal with the wrath of our God. Our future is our children and we should not be okay with what is happening today in America. Families should not be torn apart and children should not have to worry about their next meal or when they will see their parents again. 

Now let’s hear your thoughts…

If you had the opportunity to work on immigration reform as it relates to separation of families. What would be some suggestions on how we could approach this issue? 

Many of the children who’s families are being deported are American. What do you believe will happen to these children as they grow older? 

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Dr. Kendra Flores Carter received her Doctor of Social Work Degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Flores-Carter research focuses on maternal child health and women’s mental health. She currently a Co-PI on a multi-site study entitled “Ratings Associated
with Diabetes and Depression”
Dr. Flores-Carter is an active and current member of the ArrowheadRegional Medical Center Institutional Review Board.