Op-Ed Columnist: Trump and the Baby Snatchers


This was the lead paragraph of a New York Times report last week:

“The Trump administration said on Friday that it had separated 1,995 children from parents facing criminal prosecution for unlawfully crossing the border over a six-week period that ended last month, as President Trump sought to shift blame for the widely criticized practice that has become the signature policy of his aggressive immigration agenda.”

This may well be one of the most callous policies the Trump administration has instituted in its zeal to crack down on illegal immigration.

These are children!

On June 9, The Washington Post reported that “a Honduran father separated from his wife and child suffered a breakdown at a Texas jail and killed himself in a padded cell last month.”

According to The Post, when the man, 39-year-old Marco Antonio Muñoz, was told he would be separated from his wife and 3-year-old son, he “ ‘lost it,’ according to one agent.”

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Marco Antonio MuñozCreditStarr County Sheriff’s Office

“ ‘The guy lost his s—-,’ the agent said. ‘They had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.’ ”

The Post continued: “Muñoz was placed in a chain-link detention cell, but he began punching the metal and shaking it violently, agents said.”

At another point in the account, The Post reported:

“ ‘He yelled and kicked at the windows on the ride to the jail,’ an agent said. Shackled and handcuffed, Muñoz attempted to escape again upon arrival and once more had to be restrained. According to the sheriff’s department report, Muñoz was booked into the jail at 9:40 p.m. He remained combative and was placed in a padded isolation cell, it says.”

Muñoz would take his own life. A guard saw “ ‘a piece of clothing twisted around his neck which was tied to the drainage location in the center of the cell,’ according to the incident report filed by the sheriff’s department that morning.”

I can’t begin to imagine the incredible pain and anxiety parents like Muñoz and their children must feel. I can’t imagine being forcibly separated from my children for any reason.

And yet, this has become Trump’s policy of persecution. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even had the gall to invoke one of the same Bible verses used to justify slavery to justify the current policy.

Trump keeps lying about it, trying to distort reality and claim that the separations are a result of a “law” made by the Democrats.

As The Times reported on Saturday: “Mr. Trump has steadfastly tried to deflect blame for the separation of children from their parents, consistently dissembling about why it is occurring. His comments are the latest example of his asking the public to discount what it sees with its own eyes and instead believe his own self-serving version of reality. They also reflect how politically poisonous the issue has become, as photographs and news articles circulate about the effects of the practice.”

As The Times explained: “In fact, there is no law that requires families to be separated at the border. There is a law against ‘improper entry’ at the border, as well as a consent decree known as the Flores settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time that migrant children may be held in immigration detention, which a federal judge ruled in 2016 also applies to families. A 2008 antitrafficking statute — signed into law by a Republican president, George W. Bush — also requires that certain unaccompanied alien minors be transferred out of immigration detention in 72 hours. None of those laws or precedents mean that children must be taken away from their parents.

“It is the Trump administration’s decision this year to prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals that has forced the breakup of families; the children are removed when the parents are taken into federal custody. While previous administrations have made exceptions to such prosecutions for adults traveling with their minor children, the Trump administration has said it will not do so.”

Mind: Antidepressants and Withdrawal: Readers Tell Their Stories


Readers in my age group and older (I’m 58) often came of age in an era in which depression was considered somehow a lapse in character. These readers typically reported having started on Prozac or one of its early competitors — Paxil, Zoloft — very often after a major setback like divorce, or the loss of a job, spouse or child.

“My G.P. put me on Zoloft 28 years ago to deal with my husband’s cancer diagnosis,” wrote Carole Wilson, 74, of Alburnett, Iowa. Her husband has since died. “I have cut down from 200 milligrams to 100, but when I go lower I get horrible side effects, like nausea, jumpiness, crying a lot which I never do. I’m nearly 75; at this point I will continue because I cannot go through the withdrawal.”

James Midkiff, 75, of Vienna, W.V., wrote: “I was sole caretaker for my dying wife and was a law enforcement officer and under a great deal of stress.” Mr. Midkiff said he tapered off Lexapro gradually, about a month ago, “but I am having withdrawal symptoms of shaking, panic attacks, flulike symptoms, nausea, fatigue, night sweats, tingling and numbness in the arms and legs. I am determined to get off antidepressant drugs; however it is disheartening to note that other folks are still having withdrawal symptoms after a year.”

Hundreds of others, in their 60s and 70s, told us similar stories about starting a prescription in the wake of terrible loss. The drugs helped ease the emotional turmoil initially, many said.

Their reasons for wanting to stop taking them were rooted in part in the understanding that antidepressants were supposed to be a short-term solution, a bridge over troubled waters. But by the mid-1990s, drug makers had convinced government regulators that when taken long-term, the medications sharply reduced the risk of relapse in people with chronic, recurrent depression.

Thus began the era of indefinite or open-ended prescribing, and not just for the most severe cases of depression. The change in practice roughly coincided with the promotion of the “chemical imbalance” theory of depression: Marketers and some researchers implied that antidepressants corrected deficits in brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter.

In truth, the theory has scant basis. No one knows the underlying biology of depression or any mood disorder. But that shift — along with a change in federal regulations, in 1997, allowing drug makers to advertise directly to consumers — helped undermine the stigma associated with depression and mood disorders generally.

Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder came out of the closet, if gingerly, and the generation that came of age during this time — people now in their 40s, give or take — did so in a culture that no longer automatically presumed that depression was a character flaw.

The condition had some biological basis, it was felt, and antidepressants became a vastly popular option. Everyone knew someone taking them. Long-term prescription rates surged.

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Robin Hempel began taking an antidepressant on the advice of her gynecologist. “Had I been told the risks of trying to come off this drug, I never would have started it,” she said.

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Cheryl Senter for The New York Times

In their responses to us, many readers in this age group were much more likely than older readers to cite specific psychiatric diagnoses: social anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, as well as depression. And their decisions to taper off were less tied to the presumption that the drugs are short-term bridges; most cited practical concerns like lingering side effects (sexual dysfunction is common, as is weight gain), pregnancy or the passing of postpartum despair.

“When I became pregnant I chose to stop taking Effexor because I was uncomfortable using it during pregnancy,” wrote Katie Slattery, 39, of Orlando, Fla. “When I stopped cold turkey, I felt extremely unwell and had to go back on and wean off slowly. I would break open my pill capsules and reduce my dose by one milligram at a time every couple of days. It was a lengthier process, but it prevented the dizziness, headache and fogginess I felt when I originally stopped the medication.”

Amy Cannon, 42, of Philadelphia wrote: “I started taking Zoloft after experiencing moderate postpartum depression, and after about a year I felt my symptoms weren’t as severe.” But she had “brain zaps” — electric-shock sensations in her head — and mood swings after trying to quit cold turkey, so she resumed taking the drug.

“Eventually I was able to wean down slowly without severe consequences, but it took six months and was still really unpleasant.” Nonetheless, she said that she was very grateful that the drugs were available when she needed them.

Women taking antidepressants who become pregnant, or are planning to, often prefer not to expose the developing fetus to any prescriptions. The evidence that exposure in utero causes problems for a child is fairly weak.

And untreated depression poses risks indeed, both before birth and after, when the child needs an energetic, vigilant caregiver.

As the stigma associated with mood disorders faded, so too did the social barriers to taking a daily prescription. By 2000, when doctors began prescribing antidepressants to children, prevailing views were vastly different from those of the first Prozac generation.

Nearly 1,000 young people in their 20s or younger responded the The Times’s invitation. They did not come of age during the rise of long-term use — their parents did, and often it was their parents who decided the medications could help them.

Many told us they were too young to know what the drugs were at the time, and didn’t learn until much later. As they enter high school and college, their understanding of the prescription culture is far different from that of generations before.

For one thing, many of their friends have been on antidepressants or other psychiatric medications for long periods. “I live in a college house of six girls, two of whom are on antidepressants,” wrote Julian O., 21, of Seattle.

“When brought up in conversation, the medications are discussed with vanity, as if they are veterans trying out the newest medication prescribed to them.”

Emma Dreyfus, 28, of Boston, said the “one mistake her parents had made” was putting her on Paxil at age 10 to treat anxiety. She weaned herself off slowly at age 23.

“I don’t blame them, but I wish we’d all understood the long-term effects.” She said she is starting graduate work in the fall, in social work, to help others facing similar challenges.

Others in this youngest cohort wondered about the effect of the medications on brain development; the drugs cause biological adjustments in the brain, but so do persistent mood problems.

For now, no one has good answers for them. The drugs are a brand new cultural development, historically speaking, and their diffuse biological effects — especially in the developing brain — are largely unknown.

Whatever their ages, all of us are part of Generation Rx — a huge, uncontrolled experiment with little precedent and few guideposts.

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