Concerned Scientists on Migrant Child Separation
NOTE: The inital list of signatures was sent on Friday June 1st, 2018. However, if you would like to add your name to the online letter, please fill out all of the fields below. If you do not have or use an email address from an educational institution, please include information to verify that you are either a scientist (e.g., faculty, graduate student, postdoc), clinician (e.g., MD, clinical psychologist, social worker), or public health professional

The open letter can be found here:


In response to the Trump administration's decision to separate migrant children seeking asylum from their parents we are submitting an open letter to the head of the Department of Homeland Security (Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen) imploring her to end this practice based on the detrimental harm it will have on the psychological and neurological wellbeing of the children.

If you are a scientist, clinician, or in higher education and wish to have yourself included in this letter, please provide your email address (for verification purposes only, will not be posted or shared with a third party), name, and institutional affiliation. Deadline for including your name on the letter is 12pm (midnight) EST on Friday, June 1st, 2018.

The letter and the signatory names will be posted publicly as well as sent to Secretary Nielsen via certified mail.


Dear Secretary Nielsen,

We, the undersigned, are researchers and clinicians who are deeply concerned about the revised policy of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to separate migrant children, some as young as 12 months of age, from their families.

The scientific evidence is clear that early life experiences and resulting development shape a person for their lifetime. This “critical period” in early life sets the stage for cascading effects on psychological and biological wellbeing.

We also know that, during this critical period, parents play a vital role in facilitating the growth and development of their children. Decades of psychological and brain research have demonstrated that forced parental separation and placement in incarceration-like facilities can have profound immediate, long-term, and irreparable harm on infant and child development. These effects include, but are not limited to:

Socioemotional Development:
-- Impaired attachment relationships
-- Impaired peer relationships
-- Despair and flat emotional reactivity
-- Depression
-- Anxiety
-- Stereotyped behaviours
-- Difficulties with eating

Post Trauma Responses:
-- Nightmares/night terrors
-- Negative changes in mood
-- Withdrawal and senses of hopelessness
-- Physical pain such as gastrointestinal distress and headaches

Neurological & Physiological Development:
-- Chronically elevated stress hormones
-- Sensitization of the brain’s stress response pathways
-- Reduced brain volume and connectivity
-- Reduced dopamine and serotonin levels that can impact mood, learning, and decision-making.
-- Heightened inflammatory activity

Cognitive Development:
-- Dysregulation of attention
-- Worse executive functioning
-- Reduced memory function
-- Immediate and persisting educational challenges
-- Impairment in language abilities

These negative consequences are likely to be even more pronounced for migrant children, many of whose parents are seeking asylum, as they are both coming from impoverished or traumatic environments and also challenged by a new cultural and linguistic environment while they are detained.

The broad consensus of the psychological and neuroscientific communities is that the current US government policies on forced separation can only be seen as a form of extreme emotional abuse on the children that are being separated. This has a real potential for causing long-term, and very possibly permanent, harm. As scientists and clinicians, we implore you to end this inhumane practice and to do everything in your power to develop policies that minimize trauma to these children and families.

Concerned Scientists, Clinicians, and Educators*

* All signatures represent opinions of the individual, not necessarily their representative institution

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