As a pediatrician, hearing the news of President Trump’s executive order on immigration—and the chaos that has ensued since—I have felt very worried for not just the children who are being stopped from finding safety within our borders, but for the children growing up here in our country. While Trump’s order says that he wants to protect us, the reality is that it puts all of us, particularly our children, in danger.
It’s heartbreaking, really. We are a country of immigrants, a country founded on the idea that are all created equal, no matter their race and religion. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Trump’s order undoes all that with a stroke of a pen. Our moral standing in the world just plummeted. We can no longer say that we are a country that fights for the oppressed; instead, we have become one of the oppressors.
I wonder if President Trump is aware that the majority of the Syrians he has indefinitely blocked from entering our country are women and children. I wonder if he has thought about the fact that the children who come from countries he is blocking, and other countries as well, are coming from poverty, persecution, violence or some combination of those. As the Alliance to End Trafficking and Safety has pointed out, “children don’t migrate, they flee.” It’s not like we just let people in just because they feel like coming. There is a process they go through that investigates and vets them. With this order, he has condemned children to lives we would never want a child to live—and torn families apart. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has pointed out, toxic stress can have long-lasting, even permanent effects on the physical and mental health of children. Trump may literally have damaged these children forever.
I wonder, too, if President Trump is aware that non-Muslims were responsible for more than 90 percent of terrorist attacks perpetrated in the US. Let’s not forget people like Dylann Roof, Timothy McVeigh and Dylan Klebold. Let’s also remember that some, like the Tsarnaev brothers who were responsible for the bombing in Boston, or Omar Sateen, the Orlando shooter, were American citizens that became radicalized and violent. This immigration ban wouldn’t have stopped those horrible acts from happening. Not only that, it sharply increases the chances that more young people will become radicalized into violence. Like begets like, after all.
The hate goes both ways, too. Already we are seeing people lash out at American citizens who they think are Muslim. These are innocent, law-abiding citizens, and yet they are being attacked simply because of their name, their appearance or their faith. The clear message to children, no matter what they look like, is that someone might hurt them randomly and unexpectedly.
Which means that every single child in our country is growing up in danger, no matter what their background or faith and is at risk of toxic stress.
Speaking of missing the point and not doing his homework, I am puzzled by Trump’s prioritization of Christians over Muslims for immigration, something Christian leaders denounce. Does Trump not understand that Christians and Muslims share the same God, that both trace their lineage back to Abraham? Does Trump not understand that Muslim teachings eschew violence every bit as much as Christian teachings?
Besides fomenting hate and fear, which are terrible for children in truly every way, Trump is missing perhaps the most important point: terrorism is a tiny percentage of deaths of US citizens. Gun violence kills thousands more. Protecting our border won’t stop those deaths and all the lives they destroy. You know what might? Putting resources into stopping gun violence, which would include gun control laws, improving community policing, and working to prevent violence in the first place through better community resources, drug treatment programs, more accessible mental health services and stronger educational and vocational programs. That would go a long way toward keeping all of us safe.
That’s the thing: building a wall and stopping immigration doesn’t help us—it hurts us. It worsens hate and increases the risk of violence for everyone. It lessens our standing in the world. It takes resources and attention away from things that have been proven to keep us safe and well.
It puts our children in danger—now, and for the rest of their lives.