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Cuomo, De Blasio Want Answers About Migrant Children In NY

Migrant children shield their faces while leaving the Cayuga Center in East Harlem
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Migrant children shield their faces while leaving the Cayuga Center in East Harlem Mary Altaffer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Migrant children who have been separated from their families are being shuttled to states thousands of miles away from their parents, and Governor Andrew Cuomo says that about 700 have been placed in New York. He and Mayor Bill de Blasio each sent letters to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, demanding information about the children here.

The children are now caught in a "maze of agencies and legal hurdles." For instance, while children have their own legal rights, WNYC's Beth Fertig and Cindy Rodgriguez reported, "They will eventually go to immigration court where judges will determine if they have a good enough case to remain in the United States or if they should be deported."

There is no guaranteed right to a lawyer for anyone in immigration court and several local immigration attorneys tell WNYC they are so busy they can't serve all the children who need them. But the Office of Refugee Resettlement does contract with Catholic Charities Community Services in New York to provide legal screenings for the children. Some wind up with free lawyers from Catholic Charities, while others find attorneys from various nonprofits or private law firms. Those who don’t have lawyers but are still in foster care get “friends of the court” from Catholic Charities, who sit with them during any proceedings before a judge.

Cuomo wrote to Secretary Azar, "The New York Constitution places an affirmative obligation on the State for the health and welfare of everyone within our borders and ensure that the due process of rights of all inhabitants are protected. Accordingly, as Governor of New York, I am requesting that you provide information on the number of children that have been sent to New York, where these children are being house, and whether any children have been discharged from federal state custody to the state foster care system or to family members in the community. New York State certifies residential facilities and we have an obligation to ensure that appropriate service are being provided."

He also referred to how the state health department "has raised significant concerns about the deeply traumatic effects and life-altering consequences of separating children from their parents."

Listen to WNYC's Jessica Gould talk to medical professional about the mental health toll separation takes on children:

The governor's office released videos of his visit to one facility; he said on CNN, "You have a child who's with their parent. They show up at the border. They think they're going to a new country together with their parents and then they wind up in a cage, they wind up separated, and they wind up being put on an airplane or a bus and sent somewhere else in the country. They don't speak the language. They don't know where they are. The facility I was at said they have a high level of psychological trauma, anxiety disorders."




The Cayuga Centers, which has a location in East Harlem, released a statement this afternoon, explaining that children in their program receive many services, including education, recreational activities, and mental health attention—plus their workers try to reunify children with family.

"Every day, Cayuga Centers staff members go far beyond the requirements of their jobs in ensuring the safety and comfort of all unaccompanied children referred to their program," they said. "Cayuga staff members make themselves available 24 hours a day to meet youth upon their arrival to New York City. At any hour of the day, staff are there to ensure that newly arrived youth are fed nutritious food, provided essential such as clothes and toiletries, educated about their rights, seen by a medical professional to address any health concerns, and quickly transferred to the comfort of a foster home in which they are treated with care and respect."

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