The highly publicized imposition and retraction of the “family separation” border policy by the current U.S. Administration was not an anomaly in U.S. history. In this manuscript, we place these troubling recent events in the context of decades of U.S. immigration policies and politics. We then describe the consequences of family separation and other current immigration policies on child health. We end with a call to action: Pediatricians and other advocates for child health should demand a new direction in immigration policy that stops the use of children as pawns. Instead, the United States should adopt as a fundamental guiding principle support for children and families, both abroad and at home.

Author Biography

Dr. Sarah Polk is a primary care pediatrician and Medical Director of the Children’s Medical Practice. She is as Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine. Her overall research interest is optimizing primary care as a means of addressing racial/ethnic health disparities with a particular focus on early childhood obesity prevention and mental health care. She established and directs the Center for Salud/Health and Opportunity for Latinos (Centro SOL). The mission of Centro SOL is to promote equity in health and opportunity for Latinos by advancing clinical care, research, education, and advocacy at Johns Hopkins and beyond in active partnership with our Latino neighbors. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein is Professor of the Practice in Health Policy and Management and Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A pediatrician, he previously served as the health commissioner for Baltimore City, as the Principal Deputy Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and as the health secretary for the State of Maryland. Mary Ann Hernando is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She received a Bachelor's degree in neuroscience from the University of Miami and a Master of Public Health with a focus on health systems and policy from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is interested in health care policy and health disparities, and plans to pursue Internal Medicine residency after graduation. Margaret Moon MD MPH is a general pediatrician and pediatric clinical ethicist. She trained in medicine (MD) and public health (MPH) at the Johns Hopkins University where she also completed a residency in pediatrics. She completed a fellowship in clinical ethics and a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar program at the University of Chicago, and the McLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. Dr. Moon is the Chief Medical Officer in the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and core faculty in the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Shamelle Richards graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in Medical Anthropology and Global Health. There, she conducted research into the reproductive health of migrant women and worked for NIH and Gates Foundation-funded global health projects. She is currently pursuing JD and MPH degrees. Her research and practice interests include migrant children's nutrition, migrant health policy, incarceration and detention policy, and health and data privacy.


We thank Sashini K. Godage and Laura Bou for their help with manuscript preparation.