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For all the Gabrielas, keep children, parents together, writes Duke pediatrician

Wednesday, June 20, 2018
By Gabriela M. Maradiaga Panayotti, MD
Gabriela Panayotti

Gabriela Hernandez is a Honduran immigrant who was profiled on CNN as she made her way to the United States border with a large “caravan” of people trekking across Mexico. The story struck home.

My name is Gabriela, and I am also a Honduran immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1997 seeking educational opportunities and refuge from the violence and crime that permeated daily life in Honduras.

After watching the CNN report, I wondered what could I possibly say to my Honduran sister as she fights for her life and the survival of her children? How can I prepare her for the possibility that after her horrific journey, she might have her children taken away from her?

I feel nauseous every time I hear our fellow brothers and sisters portrayed as hardened criminals, and even worse, that this designation is being used to forcibly remove children from their parents. Remove children from their parents. If you’ve ever felt the pangs of leaving your child at daycare when you go to work, can you even imagine what it’s like to have your child taken away from you without any assurance you will ever see her again?

According to Customs and Border Patrol, more than 650 children have been separated from their families at the border in recent weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics has joined more than 500 national and state organizations in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) demanding they immediately end the practice of separating families. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has introduced the Keep Families Together Act to prevent DHS from taking children away from their families at the border.

This is not mindless hysteria: the research on the effects of prolonged levels of stress, also known as “toxic stress,” on the developing brain tells us that the negative consequences are very real.

This is not mindless hysteria: the research on the effects of prolonged levels of stress, also known as “toxic stress,” on the developing brain tells us that the negative consequences are very real. These children are at higher risk for developmental delays, substance abuse, depression and heart disease. Of course, a history book could have told us that.

I have many Gabrielas who come to my pediatric clinic in Durham. As a group, these women are some of the most reliable and adherent patients I see.

Read the full op-ed