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Doctor: Family separation is child abuse

Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says the Trump administration's practice of separating families at the border is "child abuse."

Posted: Jun 19, 2018 6:54 AM
Updated: Jun 19, 2018 7:08 AM

In a psychodrama played out on a giant scale at the US border with Mexico, the Trump administration is wrenching immigrant kids away from their parents and locking them up. Officials explain it as a "zero tolerance" policy for those crossing into America illegally. To me as a biographer of Trump, this is a re-enactment of the President's own childhood trauma, and anecdotal proof that an abusive attitude toward children can be passed from one generation to the next.

The science on intergenerational child abuse is not certain, but some studies do show that kids who were hurt at a tender age may be more likely to become abusive adults. The defining moment in Donald Trump's childhood came when, at 13, he was torn from his family home and sent to a Lord-of-the-Flies military school where, as Trump and some of his schoolmates told me, boys were beaten by grown men and then turned on each other.

When I see images of border agents separating kids and parents I recognize a similar cruelty. Others, who may not know the President's history, recognize a more general kind of meanness:

"...this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart." said former first lady Laura Bush.

"Babies torn from their parents. Can't stand it," said Oprah Winfrey.

"The effect of this type of event will follow these children into adulthood and into their entire lives," said Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, president of the American College of Physicians.

Even if Trump's actions have nothing to do with how he was treated as a child, the policy he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are enforcing speaks to a President who fails to show the normal degree of empathy we expect of our leaders.

The impact of childhood trauma is well understood by physicians and has been established by many studies. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris's book "The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity" describes the science very well. Of course no one needs a book to explain that hurting kids is wrong. Common sense tells us that pain inflicted on a child can have lasting impact.

Trump falsely claims that Democrats are to blame because they supposedly created a law that forces the separations. No such law exists. Trump's ally, US Senate candidate Joe Arpaio, says blame belongs to the moms and dads who illegally cross the border with their families in tow. Lost on Arpaio and on Sessions, who has quoted the Bible to defend the policy, is the fact that these families are refugees fleeing real danger in their home countries. Desperate to find safety, they undertake dangerous journeys and border crossings in hopes that America will meet them with compassion.

Instead of receiving the care that strangers in need deserve, the immigrant families are enduring the kind of treatment that diminishes America's ability to advocate for human rights around the world. How is a nation that mistreats children in this way going to credibly oppose human rights abuses carried out by regimes abroad? It clearly weakens US credibility in the case of any protest against authoritarian actions in North Korea or the Philippines or Venezuela, to name just three places where America needs to speak up in defense of human rights.

At home the policy foolishly ignores the fact that cruelty can enrage and radicalize victims and bystanders and inspire them to fight back. (Terrorists and criminals are born of this kind of treatment.) It also inflicts a moral trauma on American citizens who want to believe their country stands for something better. How are we supposed to hold in our hearts both the Statue of Liberty and the photos of incarcerated children?

The pain created by the zero-tolerance policy disturbs compassionate Americans because it is abuse inflicted in our name and, since we do not possess the authority to change the policy directly, we feel like powerless bystanders. However some people do have influence on the President and his decisions and here it is helpful to return to the family factor.

With the President who was treated cruelly now abusing children at the border, his wife, first lady Melania Trump, has said that something needs to be done to rectify the situation. I believe it is time for his own offspring to act.

No one in Donald Trump's world is more important and influential than his daughter Ivanka and she has reportedly pursued a pro-family, pro-children agenda. As a child, Ivanka was treated abysmally during her parents' divorce. (Consult the tabloid headlines of the day for evidence.)

By all accounts her own kids are treated with empathy and kindness, which means she has stopped the cycle of poor treatment inside the House of Trump.

Now she has the chance to do something more by speaking directly to the government's abuse of immigrant children and demanding that it stop. Decency requires nothing less.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1118335

Reported Deaths: 17712
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1455892240
Lake724831254
Allen67063882
Hamilton51060487
St. Joseph49820649
Elkhart40268546
Vanderburgh34714497
Tippecanoe30808276
Johnson27696467
Hendricks26313385
Porter25657386
Madison21131455
Clark20238279
Vigo19059309
LaPorte17192261
Howard16770314
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Monroe16628220
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Bartholomew12983190
Warrick12210190
Wayne12090269
Floyd12011226
Grant11998245
Morgan10409192
Boone9869124
Noble9316122
Henry9177169
Marshall9152147
Dearborn8970100
Dubois8835140
Shelby8281130
Cass8167128
Lawrence8057185
DeKalb7817109
Jackson770793
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Gibson7102118
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Harrison6954100
Knox6915116
Steuben669089
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Clay464662
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Pulaski210359
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Brown177550
Crawford169129
Benton168417
Martin152120
Switzerland147612
Warren135816
Union122616
Ohio92413
Unassigned0595

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1717876

Reported Deaths: 26851
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1793291843
Cuyahoga1681592655
Hamilton1137721544
Montgomery805721405
Summit719531210
Lucas630291027
Butler56852814
Stark538501183
Lorain42330645
Warren35959417
Mahoning35798788
Lake32314501
Clermont31289369
Trumbull27344620
Delaware27206185
Licking26658344
Medina26042353
Fairfield24638287
Greene24378373
Clark22122390
Portage21257283
Richland21102342
Wood20128248
Allen18969326
Miami17338352
Columbiana16905335
Muskingum16726207
Wayne15740307
Tuscarawas14454362
Marion13332196
Ashtabula12732237
Erie12685199
Scioto12475188
Pickaway12260155
Ross11719226
Hancock11529175
Geauga10934179
Lawrence10653172
Belmont10459234
Huron9805159
Jefferson9632228
Union957375
Sandusky9348166
Seneca8917161
Knox8792176
Washington8688159
Darke8399181
Athens838197
Ashland8029152
Auglaize7943120
Shelby7511135
Defiance7358117
Crawford7281150
Fulton7215113
Brown7173116
Logan7003111
Guernsey696186
Mercer6933100
Highland6745120
Clinton6526106
Williams650099
Madison649790
Preble6274140
Putnam6244122
Jackson581597
Champaign580887
Perry566779
Coshocton5645108
Ottawa5641102
Morrow517765
Fayette494072
Hardin4895100
Gallia471478
Van Wert467895
Pike465578
Adams4592110
Henry434280
Hocking410193
Holmes3999141
Wyandot377675
Carroll366178
Paulding325451
Meigs305961
Monroe235961
Noble220349
Morgan216939
Harrison213153
Vinton187638
Unassigned06
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