July 03, 2018 03:59 pm Scott Wilson – In response to an executive order to stop separating undocumented immigrant families at the border, the AAFP called on the Trump administration to waste no time in reuniting families that were separated earlier and to ensure that children who are still in custody have access to health care.
The AAFP's statement,(1 page PDF) issued a day after the June 20 executive order, urged the administration to "immediately place the highest priority on reuniting the previously separated families," and to "ensure the mental and physical health and safety of the families by providing access to qualified medical professionals to assess and monitor the emotional well-being of the children in the custody of the U.S. government."
Before President Donald Trump issued the order, the AAFP had explained the health care issues that were at stake in a June 16 statement(AAFP page PDF) that cited the Family Physician's Creed, as well as the Academy's policies on providing medical care to undocumented individuals and on opposing reporting the residency status of patients.
"Once on American soil, regardless of their citizenship status, migrating children are the concern of the American Academy of Family Physicians," the AAFP said in that earlier statement, which opposed family separations "unless the child's immediate physical or emotional health or safety is at risk."
On June 26, a federal judge ordered the government to reunite families who had been separated at the border within 30 days.
Family physician Maria Colon-Gonzalez, M.D., of McAllen, Texas, has witnessed the health-related problems that these separated families face.
"I have been to detention centers and seen that people there don't necessarily have the best hygiene conditions and have no privacy," Colon-Gonzalez told AAFP News. "When thinking about transition of care, language and communication are concerns -- making sure that we know what might be wrong medically or physically and that what we instruct or prescribe will be administered correctly on site at the detention center."
The AAFP emphasized the urgency of reuniting immigrant families quickly because each day of separation adds to the mental and emotional toll, especially on detained children.
Colon-Gonzalez said it's a message that should concern the entire health care community.
"What I have experienced," she said, "is that there is a need for health care professionals -- not only physicians -- to understand this as a health issue, a human-rights issue."
Related AAFP News Coverage
How U.S. Immigration Policy Damages Children's Well-being