Our responsibility to refugee children

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I am a pediatric resident working, like many residents, in a clinic that sees many of the most vulnerable children in our area. We see many refugees and immigrants coming through our clinic, including many from the countries named in President Trump’s immigration ban.

These refugee children often suffer from afflictions we rarely see amongst our usual patient population: severe vitamin and nutritional deficiencies, intestinal parasites, malaria. They are often thin and short from spending their formative years without sufficient nourishment, their blood full of lead from old pipes or pottery. They have nightmares like so many children, but instead of the imagined threat of the noisy humidifier down the hall, their terror is provoked by the memory of the very real explosion that crumbled part of their school building. They are nervous and afraid of medical personnel, with whom they have often only had limited contact.

But the children themselves are not so different from their American counterparts. Their anxious scowls erupt involuntarily into giggles when you press on their little bellies. They listen expectantly for the results of the inspection of their ears for “dinosaurs.” They suffer noisily the indignity of vaccinations, but wear their reward stickers with pride across their foreheads to demonstrate the bravery they have already long-since proven. Despite experiences that we as adults struggle to imagine, inside they are still very much children: innocent and wild and sweet and scared.

I am humbled by our responsibility as medical providers to these children, the innocent victims of political tides that began their ebb and flow long before my lifetime. A majority of these refugee children will grow up to be adults one day. And as they reflect on what they know about America and the American people, they will remember this time from their childhood. I hope that they will remember the sweet American nurse that always gave them extra cookies with the hopes that the right number of chocolate chips could make up for a lifetime of violence. I hope they remember the American social worker that helped their family access resources that would keep their bellies full and bodies warm. I hope they will recall the love and charity of our religious organizations that took very seriously their moral imperative to share with those who do not have enough.

I fear instead that their memories of America will be of a country that denied them resources and safety despite having enough of each to spare.

I claim no expertise on the subjects of immigration law and national security. But our humanity is facing an enormous threat if we allow fear to divide rather than unite us. I hope that our medical community will take very seriously our commitment not just to protect our own interests, but our obligation to all our fellow human beings.

Lacey Castellano is a pediatric resident.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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