One of the worst things that can happen to a child is forcible separation from her or his family. This is not just happening along the US border with Mexico. Across North Carolina, recent raids in towns and cities across the state have left many children in precarious situations.
Dozens of moms and dads never made it home at the end of the day, because they were targeted by ICE at work. In Sanford, ICE agents disguised themselves as day laborers and descended upon dozens of unsuspecting immigrant workers. Others were targeted on the roads. The children they left behind were traumatized. According to one news report from Charlotte, those children of immigrants showed up to school sleep-deprived, terrified, and anguished. In addition to the psychological toll of family separation, many of those children will also experience greater economic hardship from losing a household income earner.
That’s why we at NC Child are so deeply concerned about new legislation, HB 370, “Require Sheriff Cooperation with ICE,” that we believe will have the inevitable result of separating more children from their families.
Childhood traumas have been shown to have a significant impact on a child’s health, quality of life, economic security, and education. Children experience significant psychological trauma when parents are detained or deported. Children can also experience secondary traumatic stress from the detention and deportation of neighbors and fellow community members.
House Bill 370 would essentially force law enforcement entities across the state to cooperate with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests. Many local sheriffs oppose this legislation for a variety of reasons related to public safety, and spoke against it at the General Assembly on March 27th. At NC Child, we are very concerned about the negative health and psychological impacts of increased ICE presence in communities on children.
Children carry this stress at home and in the classroom, and their bodies can carry the impacts of this trauma for years. As they grow older, children face a significantly higher risk of developing trauma-related disorders like PTSD or acute stress disorder. Research shows that they also face a higher likelihood of disease and illness, including obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, which can shorten their lives.
When kids have to leave their families, the cumulative traumas can have lifelong impacts. It’s taken years of intensive work to make sure that our foster care system has the tools to respond effectively to the mental, behavioral, and physical health effects of childhood traumas – and there is still so much more to do.
We must stop inflicting unnecessary trauma on children. It makes no sense to separate children from loving parents, potentially forcing them into substitute care. Whatever the aim of HB 370, the consequences accrue to our children. Juvenile detention facilities at the border are overflowing. Our state’s foster care system is seriously short of stable families for placement. Children belong with their parents. Requiring law enforcement to honor ICE detainers and separate more parents and children, even temporarily, is short-sighted, cruel, and will have lasting consequences.
Vikki Crouse is NC Child’s Health Program Associate.
Support NC Child’s work for nurturing homes & communities. Click here to make a donation today.