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Drawings From Migrant Children Held Along U.S. Border Show Stick Figures In Cages


Now to Mexico's northern border. The American Academy of Pediatricians is trying to convince Customs and Border Protection to allow physicians into migrant detention facilities in the U.S. The AAP has long been against the Trump administration policies detaining migrant children and their families. Now the group has obtained some drawings from children ages 10 and 11 who've spent time in U.S. detention facilities. The images are stark depictions of figures behind bars and guards on patrol. The organization's president-elect Sara Goza says these images reflect trauma.

SARA GOZA: Being in a processing center like that and being detained is detrimental to children's health, short and long term, and the effects can be severe. When they're detained like that, they show signs of physical and emotional stress. The lights are on 24/7, so they're not able to sleep. Their sleep cycle's off, and that stress really - it can affect their ability to fight off infections. And they're on red alert when they're in these cages that they keep them in in processing. That means part of their brains meant to do things like learning and play, the critical work of childhood, is not being engaged. And that can take a real toll on their development. And so I think what these drawings were actually showing us with these children that had just come out of processing, that was what was first and foremost in their mind is what they had just been through and the stress of it.

CORNISH: First, can you begin by describing what some of these images look like?

GOZA: What the images look like - and they're all three very strikingly similar but different. There's one that's a little lighter color, I believe, and it was of the cages. And they all have bars there. And then there are guard towers, and there are people sitting in those towers. And I think there's some guards around the outside as well. And on the inside in a row, there are people with what looks like Mylar blankets on them. They look like they're on the floor with Mylar blankets. And there's really very little expression or there's sad expressions on the faces. The guards may have even had their mouths open like they were talking to the immigrants.

That one,- the lady that had the pictures told us that the child that drew that one pointed to the guard towers and said those were the people that yelled at us all the time. And then there was another one that had the cage, and I don't believe that one had anybody in it. It just had toilets in there. And then that last one that was there were the cages with people in there, and then there were some people on the outside. But what was striking about it was that there were no smiles on any of the faces.

CORNISH: And we should note, these are mostly black-and-white drawings, a lot of stick figures. So when you're talking about depicting someone in a blanket, it's literally a stick figure with kind of a square.

GOZA: And the head's sticking out of the square.

CORNISH: Right. Exactly. And even the idea of a cage - the entire sheet is blanketed in a kind of grid because they're behind bars.

GOZA: Correct. I mean, the whole page was pretty much the cage.

CORNISH: What have you heard from Border Patrol about any of this?

GOZA: Customs and Border Patrol are not pediatricians. They are law enforcement. I think they truly believe with us that this is really not the best place for children. And that's really where we're having conversations with them is how can we get pediatricians into these places where children are being taken care of to help mitigate some of these issues? And how can we try to make sure that children are really in customs and border facility processing centers as little as possible, if at all?

CORNISH: Quite frankly, the idea of children and families being held in these facilities is controversial. It's under a national political debate. But where does that leave a group like yours in terms of trying to help children?

GOZA: We truly believe that we can advocate that these processing centers are no place for children and that we need them there for as short of a time as necessary and that they need to be moved to a less restrictive type of area as quickly as possible. And we truly believe that if we have pediatricians on the ground in these facilities that we can make these facilities less stressful and better for these children.

CORNISH: That's Dr. Sara Goza of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

GOZA: Well, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.