New York Wants to Know: How Many Separated Children Are Here? What’s Next?
NEW YORK — The immigration crisis on the southern border became more personal to New Yorkers last week, when images emerged of small children in masks and backpacks coming and going from a child welfare agency in East Harlem.Posted — Updated
NEW YORK — The immigration crisis on the southern border became more personal to New Yorkers last week, when images emerged of small children in masks and backpacks coming and going from a child welfare agency in East Harlem.
It soon became clear that several hundred children separated from their parents out of more than 2,500 in the country had been quietly dropped on New York City’s doorstep. But their identities, the whereabouts of their parents and their future are still unknown to officials in the city.
“There was no game plan for reuniting these kids with their families,” Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said at a news conference Monday. He added, “We have no timeline from the federal government, we have no accounting for how many kids are here and where they are.”
Here is what we do know thus far:
New York state already had welfare agencies that had been resettling unaccompanied minors for the last five or so years. Those children — often teenagers — came alone to the United States with the purpose of asking for asylum or finding another way to stay in the country. The latest children have been “rendered” unaccompanied by being separated from their parents, who have been taken into custody for criminal prosecution.
About 300 children who had been separated from their parents are in New York City, de Blasio said Monday. That included 243 at Cayuga Centers, with smaller numbers of children at two agencies in the Bronx, Catholic Guardian Services and Lutheran Social Services of New York. There are also welfare agencies on Long Island and in Westchester that are caring for some of the separated children.
The children range in age from 9 months old to 17 years old, but de Blasio said most of those at Cayuga are 4-12 years old. Like many child welfare agencies that contract with the federal government, Cayuga is not a shelter for children, but it places them in foster homes, and provides day programs at the agency.
The majority of children are originally from the three Central American countries known as the “Northern Triangle,” where gang violence and poverty are rampant — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Some parents are being held in detention centers on the border, in Texas and in Arizona, while others have been deported to their home countries. Others have been released to family in the United States. El Salvador’s government has said it will not allow the U.S. to deport citizens back to the country until they are reunited with their children.
Late Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security said that it had reunited 522 children with their parents — although those children do not appear to include any sent to other cities. The department also said that it knows where all of the 2,053 children who are still in their custody are.
Federal agencies said they have a well-coordinated effort to reunite families. They have registered each child with an identification number and set up hotlines for parents, but lawyers say that those toll-free numbers have not been working consistently.
Still unclear. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that there should be a “czar” to coordinate the effort that falls under multiple agencies: the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Health and Human Services, and a division of that agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The key issue is the Flores Agreement, a settlement from a 1997 case that says children cannot be held in detention for more than 20 days. The Trump administration had said that is why it was separating the children from their parents, who might spend more than 20 days in detention as they wait for the outcomes of their trials for illegally entering the country. In issuing its executive order ending the separations, the administration has asked a judge to overturn the agreement, but she has not yet acted. If she does, parents and children could be held together as the parents await their trials.
If the judge does not overturn it, the children will wait in foster care or shelters, including those in New York, while their parents’ cases are decided. If a child’s parent or guardian is deported, the child might ask the judge for “voluntary departure” to go back as well.
The children could also be turned over to relatives; many of the children sent to New York do not have a direct tie to a sponsor there. Locating sponsors is complicated because the government is making potential sponsors disclose citizenship and immigration status, and some are unauthorized immigrants.
The mayor encouraged members of the public to visit the city’s website, where there is a link to donate comfort items, like teddy bears and money to cover legal costs. Anyone who wants to donate can call 3-1-1 or go online to nyc.gov/fund.
Cayuga Centers was planning to hold a job fair Monday for additional staff. De Blasio has asked New Yorkers not to protest in front of the agencies that care for the children, as that could frighten the children and hinder an agency’s ability to operate.
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