Statement of APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, at a Press Conference on the Administration’s Immigrant Family Separation Policy

Evans responded on June 21, 2018, to the end of the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.

The American Psychological Association is relieved that President Trump issued the executive order yesterday, ending the administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.  

However, there are still many questions and concerns regarding the treatment of immigrant families who may now be housed together in Defense Department and other federal facilities but may be detained longer than is currently permitted by law. 

We are also gravely concerned about the fate of the more than 2,300 immigrant children who have already been separated from their parents and are being held in shelters or foster care.  These children have been needlessly traumatized and must be reunited with their parents or other family members as quickly as possible to minimize any long-term harm to their mental and physical health. 

We recommend the following four principles to guide our immigration policy: 

  1. Families are not separated. 
  2. Services for children and families are informed by research on trauma-informed care. 
  3. Culturally competent mental health services are available. 
  4. The same standards of care are applied for immigrant children in U.S. custody as for children in our child welfare system. 

Decades of psychological research show that children and parents are in danger of experiencing toxic stress as a result of lengthy separations. Toxic stress can cause irreparable harm to children’s development by disrupting their brain architecture and other biological systems.  This, in turn, can lead to a host of mental and physical health problems later in childhood and well into adulthood. 

These problems can include severe psychological distress, including PTSD, sleep disturbances, withdrawal, substance use, aggressive behavior and decline in educational achievement. The longer the parent and child are separated, the more severe some of these symptoms may become. 

Furthermore, young children – especially infants and toddlers - thrive with personal contact and need to be held by parents and caregivers. Research has shown that children who are not held and touched can experience such serious problems as depression, anxiety and developmental delays. Yet we have heard reports that caregivers in some of these shelters are forbidden to touch the children. 

The bottom line is we need to enact immigration policies that are humane and in the best interests of children and families. The American Psychological Association and our members stand ready to assist in getting these children the appropriate psychological care that they need during the time they are in U.S. custody and upon their release.