Washington, D.C. — A new issue brief from the Center for American Progress details the toxic stress suffered by young children as a result of the Trump administration’s brutal immigration policies. By breaking families apart, instilling fear in immigrant communities, and preventing families from accessing programs that meet children’s most basic needs, the fear of deportation is causing children emotional distress and economic insecurity that may well interfere with healthy development and derail their future success.
“The administration’s mass deportation agenda evidences a striking disregard for the emotional and physical well-being of America’s young children and, as a result, our country’s own future. These wrongheaded policies will do long-term damage to children’s development and also to our nation’s current and future workforce,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at CAP.
The threat of parental separation—experienced even by children whose parents have lawful immigration status—can cause toxic, long-term stress in young children. This prolonged stress can change brain architecture and negatively alter physical, cognitive, and emotional development, making children less equipped to deal with everyday instances of adversity on the playground and in the classroom.
Children may also face secondhand stress from their parents, who may fear deportation of themselves or a family member. Similarly, parental stress can affect maternal health and health outcomes for infants. This is further compounded by barriers to healthy food and proper medical care.
In unauthorized communities, individuals tend to underenroll in public programs that can help young children thrive—such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Medicaid; or Head Start—out of a fear of interacting with public institutions.
“No child, regardless of their family’s immigration status, should live with the fear that their loved ones will be torn away from them at a moment’s notice. The culture of fear created by mass deportation has significant consequences for young children and could undermine their ability to thrive. Trump’s mass deportation agenda will have a lasting impact on our nation’s future students, workforce, and leaders,” said Leila Schochet, research associate for the Early Childhood Policy team at CAP.
The enduring impact of stress and barriers to support can have long-term consequences for the American economy. Those who face adversity during early childhood—such as trauma, separation from a parent, or deep poverty—are more likely to have poor health, drop out of high school, be unemployed, and live in poverty in adulthood. These outcomes can lower job prospects and inhibit people’s ability to reach their full potential in the workforce, representing a lost opportunity for the economy.