Barbaric Policy Of Separating Children From Their Parents Can Cause Toxic Stress Disrupting Brain Architecture

The following post, written by the Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

In an Op-Ed column for the Los Angeles Times Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, tells of the disturbing short- and long-term effects the Trump era policy of separating children from their parents can have.

Kraft writes:

“Studies overwhelmingly demonstrate the irreparable harm caused by breaking up families. Prolonged exposure to highly stressful situations — known as toxic stress — can disrupt a child’s brain architecture and affect his or her short- and long-term health. A parent or a known caregiver’s role is to mitigate these dangers. When robbed of that buffer, children are susceptible to learning deficits and chronic conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even heart disease.The government’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border counteracts every science-based recommendation I have ever made to families who seek to build, and not harm, their children’s intellectual and emotional development.” (emphasis mine)

This distressing treatment designed to be a deterrent is doing untold damage to children, the effects of which we have only begun to see. This policy is temporary, but the harm is forever and there is no way to fix it or make it right. What will be the lasting effects 10, 20, or 30 years from now? What will we as a nation have to say to the parents and their children who have been irreparably harmed through this barbaric policy?

The United States of America is supposed to be a refuge and safe haven for those fleeing warfare and violence. How can our country, the most prosperous one on the planet, tell people fleeing certain death, don’t come?

Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress stir up the Christians in their base every year in a fake war on Christmas. Not only is this ludicrous, the whole Christmas story is lost because certain Christians are scandalized by a Starbucks paper cup that isn’t sufficiently styled with symbols of the nativity. It would behoove these Christians who tout President Donald Trump’s dehumanizing agenda to look again at the story they claim to know so well.

It is important to remember that the authors of Luke and Matthew are not writing history or doing journalism. They are telling a story about God’s relationship with God’s people in the context of history. Their audiences and agendas are different, so their stories are irreconcilably distinct and resist all attempts at harmonization.

Nevertheless, the two evangelists narrate the same truth: the scandalizing story of the incarnation that God became human taking on the frailty of human flesh and bone. God’s love for this world is so great that God had to be born into it. But this birth would not be in the halls of power to the royal elite. This infant God was born to an unwed teenage couple. The virgin birth does not tell us how, but only that the impossible was happening in a new way. From Sarah to Elizabeth God has used the dried-up wombs of aged women for miraculous births like Isaac and John the Baptist. But know God has chosen this teenage girl from nowhere Nazareth or little Bethlehem depending if you follow Luke’s or Matthew’s story to be the one who bears God into this world.

It is Luke who tells us of the angelic message to shepherds keeping watch by night just outside Bethlehem. On the social ladder of society shepherds were not even on the bottom step. Their work was dirty; they were ritually and physically unclean; they were not to be trusted. And yet, God entrusted these men on the margins to be the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth. Luke is telling his reader, look here outside the ranks of power, down among the shepherds, this is where God shows up with good news for them and for all.

After Jesus’ birth and the visit of the wise men from the East, who come to pay homage to this this infant king, notably not to Caesar or Herod, Matthew tells us of Herod’s despotic violent rage that sends the Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt for their safety. Here is a reversal Matthew’s community would not have missed. Egypt the place that ancient Israel was delivered from is now the place of refuge for the holy family.

No one can say “Merry Christmas” without being connected to the shepherds who were the first to hear the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all the earth.”

No one can celebrate the season without also knowing the political implications of Jesus’ birth. From his manger bed the infant Jesus posed a political threat to Herod’s tyrannical rule. The insecure and violent ruler who offed his own family to secure his power makes refugees of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, who find asylum in Egypt.

Jesus has come to the boarder of this country fleeing violence and certain death. Holy families are seeking asylum in this land of opportunity and abundance. But tragically, the same Christians who fight each year to cheer “Merry Christmas” are supporting policies that literally tear children out of the arms of their parents. God only knows the mental and physical harm being imposed on these precious little and defenseless ones.

Immigrants and refugees have become the modern-day shepherd class dehumanized and disregarded by policy and practice of the current administration and Congressional leadership. In Trump’s America they pose a threat and are not to be trusted. This is a tragedy. It is the toxic evil of white supremacy that fuels these fears and false beliefs.

Pediatric toxic stress is now a reality of Donald Trump’s compassionless and immoral boarder policy. This is yet another needless tragedy of this administration’s racist and cruel policies. What do Christians supporting Trump have to say? Oh yeah, Merry Christmas.