National News

Children Taken at the Border Arrive in New York

Posted June 20, 2018 2:32 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.

At least 106 children have been sent to shelters in New York, the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which had confirmed the number with six of the nine shelters that contract with the federal government to take unaccompanied minors, said Wednesday.

A video captured by NY1 on Tuesday night showed a group of young girls being led in the darkness into a shelter in East Harlem run by Cayuga Centers, one of the agencies with a federal contract. The shelter also has contracts with the city and the state to house children. 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 immediately return a request for comment.

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 without authorization, and their children are taken from them and placed into custody separately. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in the past two months.

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, which are also on Long Island, in Westchester and the Bronx, that care for what the federal government calls unaccompanied minors. But Cuomo said that the facilities have been instructed by the federal government not to speak to state authorities, a process he deemed problematic.

Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York, confirmed that some of the children had been placed there, but directed questions to the refugee resettlement office.

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, they are asking to be sent back to Central America. That is a shift from earlier cases, in which children who often arrived alone at the border would be placed with family members in New York and seek to stay in the United States.

The children arriving now, “didn’t make the decision to come,” said Anthony Enriquez, director of the unaccompanied minors program for Catholic Charities. “They said, ‘I just followed my mom here.’ I am dealing with that trauma, of family separation.”

But sending children back can be difficult because often the government does not know where the parent is, or, whether the parent has been deported before 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.”