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As the news of migrant children being separated from their parents at the United States border continues to escalate, healthcare professionals are coming forward and speaking out against the policy. Numerous doctors are warning that not only will the separation lead to a myriad of negative short-term impacts, the long-term effects and broader impacts might also be severe.

SHORT-TERM IMPACT: Medical professionals have long asserted that the short-term impacts of separating children from their parents are severe and traumatic. The initial separation will likely trigger physical symptoms including elevated heart rate levels, uneven breathing, high blood pressure, and stomach issues. Although the child will eventually stop crying and exhibiting signs of physical distress, the underlying stress is still there. Even if the child is too young to later remember the separation, the signs of the physical stress will still be present in the body. Experts refer to the time period immediately following the physical display of stress as “traumatic bereavement”. During this time, the child will likely become withdrawn and will sink into a state of depression and anxiety.

LONG-TERM IMPACT: The long-term impacts of separation are hard to quantify because this is so dependent on the duration of the absence in addition to the age of the children. Long-term studies involving children who were separated from parents in other situations demonstrate a significant loss of gray matter in the brain, exemplifying that this trauma can potentially have tragic effects on the mental and emotional function of children. The separated youth may also develop serious psychological conditions including separation anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Other long-term effects of separation may include behavioral issues, memory and concentration problems, and challenges with impulse control. An indifference towards others and their emotions has also been observed in children who were separated from their parents for long amounts of time.

BROADER IMPACT: The broader impact question is more difficult to answer because it is challenging to ascertain what kind of ripple effects this will have on all of those involved and for what amount of time. Not only will the children and parents be impacted, but the government workers and healthcare professionals charged with their care may also carry long-term negative consequences with them for years to come.