First3Years is deeply troubled to hear the stories of immigrant families being ripped apart due to the newly enacted Zero Tolerance policy toward those seeking asylum and refuge in America. The trauma experienced by these infants and young children can, and will, have a live-long lasting effect.
While the government states “No policy for separating families.…just catching criminals.” 1 the reality is that family separation is happening and young children’s brains are recording the experience.
Children under the age of five build more than 1 million new neural connections per second 2. These connections build brain architecture and create the foundation for understanding the world. As young children grow into adults their brains are shaped to respond to the world they understand through experience. Environmental experiences shape connections in the brain and build the architecture that influences learning, health and behavioral responses.
During the early years the brain has more “plasticity” and its ability to change in response to environmental experiences is great. Additionally, the effort required to impact changes in the brain is low during the early years, and greater as we age.3
This graph depicts the opportunity for environmental influences on the developing brain.
Immigrant children experiencing family separation due to the “Zero Tolerance Policy” are primed to record this event as toxic because of their rapidly developing brains. Toxic stress 4 has lasting impacts on individuals and communities as it changes the structure of the brain, and communities are impacted negatively. Toxic stress damages the brain, the body, individual learning and overall health causing lifelong repercussions. The experience of immigrant children on the border of Texas is real, and this reality is shaping future generations of people who will influence our communities.
Now is the time to take action! We strongly encourage you to reach out to your Members of Congress to urge them to step in. Call Congress. Find out who represents you in Washington, and let them know you want the practice of family separation to end. Ask them to support bills that will help reunited children already taken from their parents and also prohibit future removals. Those include the Senate’s HELP Separated Children Act and Keep Families Together Act. The American Civil Liberties Union offers a script for calling the Senate, though we suspect most callers will be able to find the right words themselves.