National News

Children Taken at the Border Arrive in New York Shelters

Posted June 20, 2018 5:41 p.m. EDT

The crisis at the southern border has reached New York City, as waves of children separated from their parents have been arriving in the area.

In the past two months, 350 children have been sent to one shelter in New York City, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio who spoke in front of the Cayuga Centers’ building in Harlem on Wednesday. Currently, 239 children are at Cayuga, de Blasio said. The agency serves as a day care center for children and places them in foster care.

“How is it possible that none of us knew that there were 239 kids right here in our own city?” asked de Blasio. “How is the federal government holding back that information from the people of this city and holding back the help these kids could need?”

De Blasio said the federal government would not tell city officials exactly how many children were sent to New York and where they were being housed. There are nine shelters in the state that have contracts with the federal government to accept the children.

From conversations with officials at Cayuga, de Blasio said he learned that the youngest child brought to New York was 9 months old. A video captured by NY1 on Tuesday night showed a group of young girls being led in the darkness into the Cayuga shelter. Cayuga has contracts with the city and the state to house children in foster homes. A director for Cayuga, when reached by phone Tuesday, said she was not able to comment because the contract prohibited her from speaking to the news media.

The federal agency that cares for unaccompanied minors — the Office of Refugee Resettlement — did not return several requests for comment Wednesday.

The children have been separated from their parents at the southern border, as part of the federal government’s zero tolerance policy, in which adults are prosecuted for entering the country illegally, and their children are taken from them and placed into custody separately. More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents in the last two months.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he intended to issue an executive order ending the separation policy.

Jessica Lynch, a lawyer for Catholic Charities of New York, which represents the children in immigration court, said that since the policy was announced, “we’ve had a surge in minors coming who have been separated from their parents in the shelters.”

New York state regulates the shelters that care for what the federal government calls unaccompanied minors. Those shelters are on Long Island, in Westchester and in the Bronx.

Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York, confirmed that some of the children had been placed there, but directed questions to the refugee resettlment office. Gerard McCaffery, chief executive of MercyFirst in Syosset, New York, confirmed a report in Newsday that said eight of the separated children from the border were living in a group home there.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he intended to sue the federal government within the next two weeks for its zero-tolerance policy because it violated the constitutional rights of parents to care for their children.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the morality of this practice,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “But we also believe that this practice is illegal.”

The children are entitled to their own court hearings and, according to lawyers who deal with their cases, some of the children are asking to be sent back to Central America. That is a shift from earlier cases, in which children who traveled alone would be placed with family members in New York as they sought legal remedies to stay in the United States.

The children arriving from the border are almost all under the age of 10, and they have been “rendered” unaccompanied minors by the government, said Anthony Enriquez, director of the unaccompanied minors program for Catholic Charities. “They didn’t make the decision to come to the United States. They said, ‘I just followed my mom here,'” Enriquez said. "I am dealing with that trauma of family separation.”

Within 10 days of a child’s arrival, he said, Catholic Charities sends what is known as a “migration counselor” to speak to the young children about their legal rights and about expected behavior in temporary housing. Then the counselor talks to the children about their experience to see what may be done on their behalf. From there, it takes about a month to go before an immigration judge.

Enriquez said that lawyers for Catholic Charities have handled 18 cases of separated children who have asked judges for “voluntary departure,” or to be sent back. Another 15, he said, were considering that option.

There are still children, he said, who are waiting to find out the status of their parent’s court case before determining their own course.

But sending children back to countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador can be difficult because often the government does not know where the parent is, or whether the parent has been deported ahead of the children.

“There is no system whatsoever to track these family separations, no efforts systematically to reunite these families,” Enriquez said. “There is no supervisor, there is no database saying, ‘child here, parent there,’ so they can come back together.” Local consulates rushed to coordinate their efforts to track down children and families with Catholic Charities.

Lídice González, the Consul of Honduras, said Wednesday afternoon that she did not know how many Honduran children had been brought to New York, and where they were settled.

She said the priority was to “address whatever trauma they may have suffered as a result of having been separated from their families.”

González added, “We are going to fight for the reunification of families and we are not going to allow parents to lose the close bond they have with their children.”