“I’ve been a pediatrician for 30 years. I’ve cared for thousands of children, providing support for parents to encourage their babies’ development, and recommendations to guide them through the joys and challenges of parenting. I’ve helped navigate children and families through illness, developmental disabilities and life-threatening conditions. Recently though, I met a little girl in a border town in Texas who will forever stand out in my mind. Unlike the patients I’ve treated in my exam room, I was helpless to comfort her.
The little girl was a toddler, her face splotched red from crying, her fists balled up in frustration, pounding on a play mat in the shelter for unaccompanied children run by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. No parent was there to scoop her up, no known and trusted adult to rub her back and soothe her sobs. The staff members at the center tried their best, and shared my heartbreak while watching this child writhe on the floor, alone.
We knew what was wrong, but we were powerless to help. She wanted her mother. And the only reason she could not be with her mother was because immigration authorities had forcibly separated them when they crossed the border into the United States. The mother was detained, and the little girl was handed over to the shelter as an ‘unaccompanied’ child.”