Separating Families and Children Causes Trauma

At least 1,995 children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border between mid-April and the end of May, with more children removed from their parents since then.

Forcibly taking children from their parents causes trauma to both the children and their parents. The American Association of Pediatrics has named this practice as a form of toxic stress as well as a violation of the rights of children and families. Children who endure such major harms face higher risk of many health problems — including difficulties with mental health — throughout their lives.

Families who arrive at the U.S. border most often have faced traumatic circumstances in their home countries and on their journeys. Family separation further harms parents as well as children. Having their children removed, not knowing where they are, or when they’ll be able to see them again, is causing intense distress for parents. In one case, a 39-year-old father from Honduras died from suicide in a Border Patrol processing center in Texas after he was separated from his wife and three-year-old son.

The Intersection of Immigration and Criminal Justice

The decision to prosecute people who enter the U.S. without permission in federal criminal court is to blame for the dramatic increase in family separation at the border. Once parents are taken into the criminal justice system, their children are removed from them. While the ACLU and others are challenging the constitutionality of these practices, we must remember that the criminal justice system has separated millions of U.S.-born children from their parents through policies of mass incarceration since the 1980s. African American children, of whom an estimated one in nine has an incarcerated parent, have born the heaviest burden.

PEERS is in solidarity with the families being torn apart at the border today, and with other families who have suffered — and continue to suffer — harms from our criminal justice system. To achieve our vision of community mental health empowerment, we need to transform these systems.