Back in June, a judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite over 2,500 children who were separated from their families as part of the government's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. The judge gave them a deadline of July 26, but as of Thursday, August 16, only a small number of the nearly 600 migrant children in U.S. custody have made it back to their loved ones' arms. Now, a mom from El Salvador named Leydi Duenas-Claros is suing the Trump administration to be reunified with her baby girl who needs to be breastfed.
Duenas was denied asylum in July and set to be deported on August 16, but her deportation proceedings have been postponed as a result of her lawsuit.
According to the suit, which was filed in Washington, Duenas had been living with her children—who are all U.S. citizens by birth—in Houston for years. But when the family's home burned down in October, they moved to El Salvador. Then, in May, Duenas' four older children returned to the U.S. without her, and one day later, Duenas arrived with her then-11-month-old daughter. But upon crossing the border, Duenas and her breastfeeding baby were separated. The lawsuit says she was fleeing El Salvador because she was afraid her brother-in-law would kill her and her daughter.
Duenas-Claros "has suffered, and continues to suffer, extreme anguish and trauma due to the forcible separation from her infant child—a baby so young that she was breastfeeding prior to the separation," the lawsuit reads.
At the same time, the negative psychological and physical effects of separation on a child this young are tremendously concerning. Julie Linton, MD, a pediatrician and co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group tells Parents.com, "We know that babies that breastfeed are particularly attached to their mothers. Breastfeeding supports maternal child bonding and attachment, and so a separation from that parent would be particularly disruptive, more likely to be perceived as traumatic to the baby, because oftentimes, for a a breastfeeding baby, their closest attachment figure is their mom."
In turn, these little ones risk suffering the effects of toxic stress, such as changes in bodily function (like toileting or sleep problems) and behavior (such as aggression, unexplained crying), development, and learning, Dr. Linton notes.
It's clear that these heart-wrenching side effects will affect all too many children in the short- and long-term. Speaking not only as a pediatrician but as a mom who nursed her two children, Dr. Linton notes, "Breastfeeding is, really, an experience of shared humanity among all of us. I can't imagine being taken from my baby who depends on me for nutrition and for love. Children and families are not emigrating; they're fleeing. They deserve our compassion and assistance."
With hope, Duenas' lawsuit leads to reunification with her baby girl—and serves to remind the public that this inhumane immigration policy continues to wreak havoc on innocent parents and children.