Pediatrician recalls 'subdued' migrant kids during facility visit: 'We felt pretty helpless'
Among the first people outside the government to know that Customs and Border Protection had been separating families at the southern border were doctors. “Pediatricians in the Southwest were reporting that they had begun to encounter migrant children whom the Trump administration had separated from their parents,” reports Pacific Standard. That was in January 2018, months before officials announced the barbaric “zero tolerance” policy.
Among those physicians was Dr. Colleen Kraft, who had just become the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Knowing that family separation is damaging to kids in particular, that April she was able to secure a visit to a detention center, chillingly called a “tender age” facility. “You don’t want to believe that your country is doing something so awful,” she said, but what she saw shocked her.
“You know how toddlers normally are: They’re rambunctious and noisy and playing,” she told Pacific Standard. “But these kids were quiet. They were just eerily quiet, except for one little girl who began sobbing in the middle of the room and was not consolable.” Dr. Kraft said that staffers told her that they were forbidden from picking up the children to comfort them. “We felt pretty helpless,” she said.
The staff had told us about a set of three-year-old twins who had been there since the night before, and they were just crying for their mommy. And they were quiet. One of them had a little toy truck, one of them had a little doll, and they just looked at us and didn’t say a word. They were playing very quietly. They were very, very subdued, and you knew that the stress had become somewhat of a despair, and you felt helpless to do anything because you knew they needed their parents. That was the problem, and we couldn’t fix it.
Her organization’s repeated warnings about the toxic physical and mental damage caused by family separation went ignored by the Trump administration, but “after the second child died in government custody the day before Christmas, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan finally called Kraft to ask for help.” Kraft has been pushing for “developmentally appropriate pediatric health screening” for children, and, for staff, “training for non-medical or non-pediatric providers on basic standard care for children. That would be our first and foremost task.”