Hateful Speech Hurts

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Hateful Speech Hurts: Let's Protect and Care for Immigrant Children

Benard Dreyer, M​​D, FAAP
April 1, 2016

President John F. Kennedy used to say we are "a nation of immigrants," and that is even truer today. One in four children is growing up in a family where at least one parent is an immigrant – and of course many children are immigrants themselves.

Many of us – medical students, residents and fellows – grew up in immigrant families. Both my parents came to the U.S. as children. And while my parents were legal immigrants, my beloved aunt and uncle, who became model U.S. citizens, were undocumented. In fact all Americans – except for Native Americans – are descendants of those who came to this country from elsewhere.

So I find it disheartening and frightening to hear some of our leaders (and potential leaders) revile immigrants and paint a dark picture of their motives and impact on our country. I'm particularly concerned about attacks that portray Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants as criminals and Muslim-Americans, immigrants and refugees as terrorists. 

"The mission of the AAP is to attain the optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being for all children."

Many of the children I care for are from Mexican- and Muslim-immigrant families.  I know these families to be loving, nurturing, hard-working, loyal and seeking to contribute to the future of the United States. Unfortunately, I also remember the significant, long-lasting psychological trauma my patients from Muslim-immigrant families experienced after 9/11, when some Americans turned against their Muslim neighbors.

​As pediatricians, we must defend these children and their families against this slander. The mission of the AAP is to attain the optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being for all children. The Academy's 2013 Policy Statement, Providing Care for Immigrant, Migrant and Border Children, states that:  "Pediatricians should use their positions of respect in communities to promote the value of diversity and inclusion and to advocate for children and families of all backgrounds." Let's do so!

I know many of us care deeply about the health and well-being of immigrant children as well as the principles of inclusion and diversity.  This is especially true of the young physicians I meet – after all, it was a SOMSRFT member who proposed the number one 2015 ALF Resolution, "Addressing the Legal and Mental Health Needs of Undocumented Immigrant Children."   ​

I encourage you to join your AAP colleagues in speaking out against xenophobia and for fairness and common sense in your communities. I promise to be there with you.


​​​Ab​out the ​​Author


Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP, is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  Dr. Dreyer began his one-year term as AAP president on Jan. 1, 2016. He is a general and development-behavioral pediatrician who has devoted his career serving  children and families in poverty.  He is a professor of pediatrics at New York University, where he leads the Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics.  He also serves as director of pediatrics at Bellevue Hospital and works as a hospitalist. Dr. Dreyer has been AAP New York Chapter 3 President, a member of the Committee on Pediatric Research and the Executive Committee of the Council on Communications and Media, and co-chaired the AAP Health Literacy Project Advisory Committee. He serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Section on LGBT Health and Wellness and the AAP Leadership Workgroup on Poverty and Child Health. He also hosts a weekly radio show on the Sirius XM Doctor Radio Channel, On Call for Kids.

Additional Information​​

Immigrant Child Health Toolkit​​​​
Protecting Immigrant Children​​
Immigrant detention centers are no place for children (Houston Chronicle, December 6, 2015)
​A hateful community is unhealthy​ (US News and World Report, December 5, 2015)

​To join the Immigrant Health Special Interest Group​, contact cocp@aap.org​​​​