Good morning, Q-MHI readers!
Donald Trump’s reversal of a policy of separating the children of immigrants and refugees from their parents at the US-Mexico border may seem like a relief. But it’s cold comfort in the context of a global migration crisis that will have lasting effects on millions.
“The unexpected forcible separation from your parents is worse than the ravages of being in a war zone, or being a victim of oppression, or living in deep poverty,” Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard, tells Q-MHI. “In all of those, the only buffer you have is a parent. Take that way and everything falls apart.” Neuroscientists and psychologists say family separations can also hurt children’s immune, cardiovascular, and metabolic systems, even potentially altering the architecture of their brain. And the order signed by Trump makes no move to reunite those children with their families.
Adversity in general is bad for kids. Things like poverty, racism, abuse, exposure to violence abuse can all produce what neuroscientists and development experts call toxic stress. Those issues do not have simple solutions. But the forcible, sudden separation of children from their parents is entirely avoidable.
When children are forcibly, abruptly separated from a parent or trusted caregiver, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flood their systems. Over time, those hormones can start killing off neurons, causing both short- and long-term consequences that may cause learning and behavioral problems and/or physical and mental health issues, Shonkoff explains.
According to the attachment theory, developed in 1958 by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, young children’s sense of security is rooted in their relationships with caregivers. That in turn shapes their social, cognitive, and emotional regulation skills. Separating a child from the caregiver puts the child’s long-term development at risk.
The White House implemented a new “zero-tolerance policy” intended to crack down undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the US along the country’s southwest border. Among the central targets of this policy are the children of immigrants, some as young as 18 months old. US attorney general Jeff Sessions announced on May 7 that the Department of Homeland Security would be referring 100% of immigrants illegally crossing the border for criminal prosecution in federal court—and that any minors traveling with them would be taken into government custody. In a speech explaining the new guidelines, Sessions said, “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law.”
“The effect is catastrophic,” Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, told the Washington Post. “There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science, they would never do this.”
The US is far from alone in clamping down. This week, Italy refused to allow a migrant rescue boat to dock on its shores. Germany’s interior minister demanded the right to reject asylum-seekers who register first in other EU countries. And Austria’s chancellor, who takes on the EU’s rotating presidency next month, has indicated he will take a hard line on migration.
Meanwhile, those who refuse to shutter borders in the face of unprecedented need risk handing over power to the latest right-wing nationalist. Just ask Angela Merkel. Her 2015 decision to let more than 1 million refugees into Germany made her a hero to many. It also cost her dearly at the polls.
The crisis isn’t going anywhere: Between 2005 and 2015, the number of child refugees more than doubled, to 9 million (pdf). In the years ahead, war and conflict will drive even more people to flee their home countries; many people in Europe and North America, suffering from the twin shocks of globalization and automation, will want to reject them. But the risks many refugees and migrants face at home are far greater than any a border officer could impose, and so they will continue to seek safety for their children.
Trump’s policy inspired a wave of compassion for migrants, and a tsunami of outrage over separating children from parents. Can that potent cocktail of love and rage be sustained?—Jenny Anderson (Q-MHI).
FIVE THINGS ON Q-MHI WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
Let the pandas die, we argue.
How often do you read a debate about whether a lovable furball deserves to live or die? Elijah Wolfson and Katherine Ellen Foley argue that evolution has made it difficult for pandas to keep going without humans, while the best that Olivia Goldhill can retort is to link to a video of pandas rolling around.
In a paper published Monday (June 18) in Current Biology, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences upend the prevailing theory that pandas evolved from other bears some 20 million years ago.
After analyzing 150,000 fragments of mitochondrial DNA from a 22,000 year-old panda skull found in a cave in southern China, the team realized that the creature didn’t quite match up with modern pandas. They compared DNA from this skull—which was the oldest remnant of an ancient panda bear found to date—to the DNA of 138 modern pandas and 32 samples of other ancient bears. They concluded that some 183,000 years ago, a common Ursus ancestor split off into two lineages: the modern day panda bear, and this other ancient animal.
How soccer helped an ethnic slur take over Europe.
While “hooligan” is now heard among the World Cup fans of many nationalities and has Irish origins, Nikhil Sonnad explains how the word хулига́н has a separate and distinctly Russian meaning. It’s also an official crime.
The Russian word хулига́н, or xuligán, “is attested in Russian dictionaries from the beginning of the 20th century onwards,” says Catherine MacRobert, lecturer in Russian philology at the University of Oxford. Indeed, this term shows up as early as 1898, in a column about life in England written for Russian Wealth, a magazine of the time—well before soccer was popular in the country.
A few years later, Russian newspapers started using it regularly to lament the rise of gangs of young men who were particularly brazen about committing crimes.It is crime that sends Russia’s version of “hooligan” off in its own direction. Throughout the 20th century, “hooliganism” acquired a legal meaning in the country. By the time of the Soviet Union, hooliganism was an official crime. And it still is: Article 213 of Russia’s current criminal code defines it as a “gross violation of the public order manifested in patent contempt of society.”
Money makes the world go around.
Research on programs in Malawi, South Africa, and Mexico show that a novel idea called cash transfers can liberate young women. “The world is often quick to blame young people for their circumstances,” writes Dan Kopf. “But often, all these women need to advance in life are the privileges that come from having a little extra money.”
In 2008, the World Bank funded a study that sought to find out whether cash transfers could have an impact on young women’s sexual health in Malawi. The idea was that some extra cash might allow young women to stay in school and get married later—factors associated with a lower chance of getting HIV.
For two years, the researchers randomly selected 800 girls between the ages of 13 and 22 in the Zomba district of Malawi to receive between $1-5 a month, and their parents an additional $4-10 a month. On average, a family received a total of $10 a month, about 10% of the typical Malawian family’s monthly income. Eighteen months after the start of the program, researchers compared the women who’d received cash to a control group about 500 women who were not enrolled in the program. The results? The women who received the cash were healthier. While 3% of the women in the control group tested positive for HIV, only 1.2% of the women in the program tested positive. Three percent of the women in the control group had herpes, compared to less than 1% of the young women who’d received cash. Survey data also showed that women who did not receive cash were far more likely to lose their virginity and have sex regularly.
Dogs deserve an extra pat for being good.
Ephrat Livni’s kinship with her own pup, Mu, prompted her to explore the evolution of human thinking on animal morality. Her conclusion? Philosophy and science suggest that animals may indeed be capable of showing compassion and concern for others.
How Atul Gawande became the man he is.
Maria Thomas recounts how the journey of the surgeon, writer, and professor was guided by his pioneering doctor parents—who emigrated to the US from India—and their commitment to social justice. He will draw deeply from that upbringing as head of the new Amazon-JPMorgan-Berkshire Hathaway healthcare venture.
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
The ultimate graduation speech.
Inspiring oratory after years of study can have a profound impact on young adults. Lauren Hard and the New York Times gave readers a chance to share some hypothetical wisdom with graduates (paywall)—the highlights of which included, “Never type anything, anywhere, that you’d be embarrassed if your mother read it.”
What happens to a country if it loses access to money?
As an unintended consequence of new rules to prevent money laundering, the Marshall Islands is about to be cut off from the international banking system.
Julie Wernau, for the Wall Street Journal, examines what happens when a small country is reduced to sending crumpled dollar bills between islands by boat (paywall).
Gender is even more complicated than we thought.
In a cover story for the Atlantic, Jesse Singal dives into the struggle of “detransitioners” (the men and women who have transitioned, only to return to the sex of their birth) in an accessible way for lay audiences. What should a parent do when their child believes they are trans? Heather—these aren’t their real names—theater, guitar, and track tryouts all came up. We also discussed the fact that, until recently, she wasn’t certain she was a girl.
Sixth grade had been difficult for her. She’d struggled to make friends and experienced both anxiety and depression. “I didn’t have any self-confidence at all,” she told me. “I thought there was something wrong with me.” Claire, who was 12 at the time, also felt uncomfortable in her body in a way she couldn’t quite describe. She acknowledged that part of it had to do with puberty, but she felt it was more than the usual preteen woes. “At first, I started eating less,” she said, “but that didn’t really help.”
Time is money.
With this somewhat hokey and participatory work of reporting, the Los Angeles Times’s James Rufus Koren shows that while exorbitant interest rates and copious fees put the poor at a great disadvantage, the extra time it takes for them to participate in the economy could be holding them back just as much.
“The basic idea is, for as long as we’ve been doing this and as dismal as the facts about American financial health are, we still talk to people who really don’t get it,” said Jennifer Tescher, founder and chief executive of CFSI. “Everyone walks away with the same reaction: that this is intensely frustrating, it’s more expensive than it should be and they can’t believe millions of Americans have to deal with this.”
About 27% of U.S. households are either unbanked or underbanked, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Despite economic growth and the proliferation of online services that have made it easier than ever to open and access bank accounts, those figures have remained little changed since the FDIC started tracking them in 2009.
Mr. Trump’s people go to Washington.
The newly hip US capital’s residents hate Trump. So the president’s millennial staffers are reduced to living on the fringes of the city, where they’re heckled on the street and can’t get a date. For Politico magazine, Daniel Lippman and Ben Schreckinger get the scoop on life when you’re in power yet made to feel like an occupying force. The center of Washington has become more of a draw for young professional transplants who want to drink and date and experience active social lives. The problem is, if you work for Trump, it’s also hostile territory. The president campaigned against the very idea of “Washington,” slammed cities as “war zones” and ran a racially charged campaign whose coded messages weren’t lost on the diverse, Democratic-leaning residents of D.C.’s buzzing neighborhoods. The bar-filled areas that became synonymous with young Washington in the Obama era—Columbia Heights, Shaw, U Street, H Street—are full of anti-Trump T-shirts and street art. Even old Republican redoubts like Spring Valley in upper Northwest aren’t very Trump-friendly.
Faced with open antagonism, Trump’s millennials over the past year and a half have quietly settled on the margins: a stretch of Washington that spans from the Wharf—a shiny new development three blocks south of the National Mall—southeast along the Waterfront and into Navy Yard, on the banks of the Anacostia River. It’s a string of neighborhoods that peer out over the water, separated from most of the city by an interstate, and facing away from official Washington. It’s a bubble within the Washington bubble: Here, young Trump staffers mix largely with each other and enjoy the view from their rooftop pools, where they can feel far away from the District’s locals and the rest of its political class.
It’s not all a tale of discomfort. Many shrug off the drawbacks by pointing out that at least they’re not in New York or back on their college campuses, where their politics were even less welcome. And they’re learning one lesson that every new wave of operators learns: In Washington—even in Trump’s Washington—as long as you have power, you can manage to feel popular somewhere.