A Nurse’s Look at Everything That Could Go Wrong When You Put Children in Cages
It’s hard for me to put into words the despair I feel for the thirteen thousand children still being held behind chain-link fences in harsh, prison-like conditions, or in locations that no one seems to remember, because they didn’t keep track of human beings, of children. This isn’t about politics or border security. We shouldn’t treat children like this, no matter where they come from or how they got here — because they’re children. As the numbers continue to grow, and they will, conditions will grow worse.
History has repeatedly shown us the results of this experiment: Every time we concentrate large numbers of people together in less than optimal conditions, disease arises. These children are being held — as prisoners — by people who do not speak their language. They don’t know what happened to their parents or other family members. They are eating unfamiliar food. Their belongings, including toys, have been taken away. They are not even “allowed” to be comforted by their siblings. Their outlook is bleak. And for the very young, children with cognitive or physical disabilities, deficits in hearing or vision, the potential for physical and sexual abuse is very, very scary.
Let us also take a look at the health of these at-risk children currently being held in prison-like conditions. In the midst of immediate seizure and the incredible trauma of being separated from their parents, what are the chances that anyone took a really good health history? What are the chances that we know this child’s specific needs? What are the chances that anyone, beyond the child’s parents, gives a fig? Life-threatening food allergies, acute or chronic diseases, medication history and drug allergies, hearing or vision impairment, and mental health disorders affect children worldwide — not just those fortunate enough to be born in the US.
Even in rural Mexico, Honduras, and other Central American countries, many children are immunized. Some of them even receive occasional well-child checks. Even if their parents don’t speak the language we speak, even if they come from a different culture, they usually know how to care for their children at the most basic level. What happens when a child is torn from the only person who knows this critical information?
Some children are born with swallowing difficulties, dietary issues, metabolic disorders, and other often ‘invisible’ challenges. Are the people working these detained infants and children educated and knowledgeable about these issues? Will children be punished or deprived of proper care because of ignorance? As a nurse, I’d say it is very likely.
I wonder why the Red Cross does not have a presence in these horrible “tent cities”? I wonder how these children will be cared for? I wonder how carefully identity record are being kept? Apparently, very poorly or not at all. I wonder if these children will ever be reunited with their parents? The chances seem slim. Although a small number of families were reunited, we are now past the 70-day mark for this administration’s court-ordered reunification of families. And more children, sometimes unaccompanied, continue to be brought into detention every day.
Yes, we do need to do something about immigration, but it doesn’t have to be this. It doesn’t have to come at the expense of inflicting life-long trauma on innocent victims. Immigration has been at a 40-year low recently, even before the current regime seized the Whitehouse in an illegal election brought about by the interference of our historical enemy.
We can do better, and we must.