Dr. Manny Alvarez: What happened to me when I was separated from my parents and sent to the US

Watching President Trump sign an executive order Wednesday that allows children to stay with their parents who crossed our southern border illegally – after days of news coverage about how they were being separated – brings back painful memories. I can’t help but remember how I felt when I was separated from my parents as I left Cuba when I was only 11 years old.

Many of those feelings evolved and shaped the person that I am today.

In the 1960s we had the communist takeover of Cuba. At that time many parents were desperate for solutions on how to leave the island. For many there was no choice. They could send their children alone with the hope that they would arrive in America and be reunited someday.

The plan ran as follows: Parents gave up their children to the Catholic Church and in many cases, their children were sent to shelters that were run by the church. Usually, the children were sent to many countries like Spain with the hope that they would receive legal entry into the United States.

For many kids it lasted several months but, for me, it lasted over a year.

Many parents stayed in Cuba because they couldn’t get out. When it was time for me to come to the United States, I was placed in foster care. In the beginning I adapted pretty well. A young kid learning new things, thriving in a new culture and trying to speak a new language. But as time went on I became isolated and angry about the decision that my parents made.

Manny Alvarez

Dr. Manny Alvarez as a young boy.  (Courtesy of the author)

Even though I understood the necessity behind their decision, I promised myself that I would never do that to my own children. I know that during the Cold War there were very little choices. Nonetheless, this was a topic of conversation in my home growing up that never left the psyche of my mind. Yes, my life had a happy ending. We were all reunited, we loved each other and took care of each other. We have always been blessed by God.

I know that President Trump is trying to do the right thing by trying to fix America’s immigration problems, illegal entry, drugs, crime and regulatory loopholes. However, this issue of separating families at the border has to also be considered from a child’s point of view.

We need to recognize the permanent damage that some of these children will experience by being ripped from their parents and placed in holding camps. Remember, many of these children are too young to understand what is going on, therefore, not only should we physically protect them, but also emotionally guard them from this horrific experience.

I completely understand all the statistics regarding criminals using children to cross the border, but in cases where there are legitimate families, let us try to keep them together. I know that President Trump will do the right thing.

As the president looks at our immigration policy, I also hope that he looks at the bigger picture. He has shown to be a great diplomat. Let’s focus on Latin America to create safer communities, more job opportunities and create countries where people don’t have to migrate.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.