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Pediatricians can help promote immigrant kids’ health, says new AAP statement

Many immigrant kids and teens flee violence in their home countries. Then, they get to the United States and navigate an immigration process that can traumatize them further. To provide assistance, it's important that pediatricians are familiar with the stresses these young people may have experienced, according to a new policy statement on the detention of immigrant children released this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As the statement describes, when immigrant children arrive in the United States, they may be detained at customs facilities that are set up much like jails, even though such facilities violate federal immigration policies written with children's well-being in mind.

"There is no evidence indicating that any time in detention is safe for children," the statement says. It continues:

Until the unprecedented 2014 increase in Central American migration, children detained with a parent or guardian were released into the community. The government's decision in 2014 to place them in family detention was intended, in part, to send a message of deterrence abroad. It is the position of the AAP that children in the custody of their parents should never be detained, nor should they be separated from a parent, unless a competent family court makes that decision.

How can pediatricians help? The statement has a variety of suggestions, from helping families figure out where to enroll their kids in school to knowing how to collect evidence that may improve a child's ability to obtain asylum status. (Children who have been trafficked or have been victims of serious crimes in their home countries may be eligible for additional categories of visas.) And pediatricians can advocate for better treatment of immigrant kids during the immigration process, as well as for better access to medical care for immigrants, who are currently ineligible for most public benefits.

The statement also provides links to other resources for pediatricians, including the AAP Immigrant Health Toolkit and the AAP Trauma Toolbox for Primary Care.

Stanford is offering an opportunity to learn more about the health of immigrant children at a conference hosted next week by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Registration for the one-day Child Health and Immigration Conference, which is being held May 25, closes at the end of the day today.

Previously: Stanford conference to explore relationship between immigration policy and child health, Stanford Medicine students and faculty share immigration stories and "Just an immigrant kid" who now leads the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Photo by Tina Floersch

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