Each day a child is removed from his or her family at the southern border with Mexico, the U.S. government risks contributing to a growing mental health crisis that will last for generations.
Child-parent bonding is critical at young ages. The younger the child, the greater the risk posed by separation.
Yet the Trump administration continues to separate families seeking asylum at the border, often dispatching the children to for-profit detention centers rife with the threat of sexual abuse.
As an attorney working with experts from the American Psychological Association, I see the aftermath of these policies. Research shows the mental health issues caused by these separations gets worse as more time passes. Children develop anxiety disorders and depression that often do not dissipate once they are reunited with their parents.
As a third-generation Japanese American or Sansei, I have witnessed decades of mental health issues that have affected my community since President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, on Feb. 19, 1942.
The trauma of being imprisoned because you are different than the majority of the population despite having committed no crime has left thousands of Japanese Americans and their descendants with long-term feelings of shame and loss. Even now, members of this so-called model minority suffer from depression tied to their incarceration.
As I researched my upcoming book about the incarceration and its effects on my family and the Japanese American population as a whole, I found multiple examples of people who questioned their place in society, their value as human beings and the hypocrisy of a nation that often pays lip service to humanitarian concerns.
Even now, the federal government is paying for the damages caused by their hastily conceived incarceration policy during World War II. I spent two days on Capitol Hill last week, educating lawmakers for continued funding of a program that supports the preservation and restoration of sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during the war.
This Japanese American Confinement Sites program would not have been necessary without the incarceration in the first place.
Yet, we are creating the conditions for future generations to demand the commemoration of the injustices created by our current mistaken border separation policies. Will there eventually be an apology or acknowledgement of what happened at the site of the Tornillo, Texas, detention center? There is now a world-class museum at the site of the Heart Mountain, Wyo., concentration camp where my parents and their families were incarcerated between 1942 and 1945.
We have the power now to prevent the need for another program devoted to preserving the record of how a misguided administration can mistreat a community. There are already signs of forces pushing back.
Mega bank J.P. Morgan Chase has announced it will no longer fund companies that run for-profit detention centers. Congress is on the verge of rejecting President Trump’s evidence-free declaration of a national emergency to justify building his border wall. Federal agencies continue to highlight the problems of sexual abuse in the detention centers.
Voices are being raised to fight the policies that threaten to create a long-term mental health nightmare.
As Rep. Mark Takano told us last week, representatives are speaking out, which did not happen when his parents were rounded up and put in camps like mine. On Wednesday, Senators Maze Hirono of Hawaii, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, all Democrats, introduced three bills that would require legal representation for undocumented immigrant children, mandate child welfare and medical help for detained children and insulate immigration judges from political pressure.
These do not have to be partisan issues. Already, a bipartisan majority opposes the border “emergency.”
We have seen what can happen when the majority remains silent, and we won’t let that happen again. The mental health of thousands of children and future adults depends on it.