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WCMS Statement Opposing Family Separation at the U.S. Border

The Washtenaw County Medical Society (WCMS) strongly condemns the harmful practice of family separation at the border and the conditions of the detention facilities. The policy and unsanitary state of the facilities leave defenseless and impressionable children exposed to enhanced health risks and lifelong trauma.

Evelyn Eccles, MD, president of WCMS, released the following statement on behalf of the more than 1,200 members: “As physicians and health advocates, particularly for our most vulnerable, we urge the Administration to end this practice immediately. WCMS further rejects the proposed alternative of child detention with a family member as it also poses a high risk of harm. Detention centers are no place for growing minds and impressionable young ones.”

WCMS members are tasked with providing life-saving care for all patients, regardless of immigration status, and agree that family separation is a toxic stressor. The physiological and psychological toll of early life stress, including parental separation, changes how the body responds to stress in the long term, disrupting higher-order cognitive and affective processes as well as negatively altering brain structures and functioning (Lupien, McEwen, Gunnar, & Heim, 2009; Pechtel & Pizzagalli, 2011; Kumar et al., 2014). Such stressors put children at greater risk for a multitude of health and psychological impairments, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, lower IQ, obesity, immune system functioning, physical growth, cancer, heart and lung disease, stroke, and morbidity (Granqvist, Sroufe, Dozier, Hesse, & Steele, 2017; Heim & Nemeroff, 2001; Maniam, Antoniadis, & Morris, 2014; Pechtel & Pizzagalli, 2011; Shirtcliff, Coe, & Pollak, 2009; Taylor, 2010). Research has proven that the harmful effects of childhood separation reach into adulthood and include increased risk for mental health problems, poor social functioning, insecure attachment, disrupted stress reactivity, and mortality (Pesonen & Räikkönen, 2012; Rusby & Tasker, 2009; Mitrani, Santisteban, & Muir, 2004). WCMS asks that the appropriate resources are dedicated to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Department of Health and Human Services, and other community facilities in order to address the unsanitary conditions in the interim.

The WCMS opposition to this policy is consistent with other health organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS). Just recently, WCMS leaders called on MSMS to reinforce the AMA’s policy H-60.906, “Opposing the Detention of Migrant Children” and successfully advocated for its adoption at the 2019 MSMS House of Delegates via Resolution 79-19, “Children in Michigan Separated from their Parents by the Federal Government.”

WCMS is committed to helping families and serving our communities in the best ways possible. Our physicians welcome the opportunity to develop reasonable solutions in optimizing access to health care and community safety.

WCMS is the leading physician medical association for legislative action and community outreach in Washtenaw County since 1827. The medical society is comprised of more than 1,200 physicians representing various specialties in and around the greater Ann Arbor-area and works in conjunction with physicians across the state through its state partner, the Michigan State Medical Society.

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