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Former Cayuga Center Employee Says She Witnessed 'Psychological Trauma' To Separated Migrant Kids

via MSNBC
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via MSNBC

A former Cayuga Center employee who earlier this week leaked video from inside the East Harlem facility is now speaking publicly, highlighting what she says is the center's inability to care for hundreds of immigrant children who remain separated from their families. On Friday, Pamela Baez appeared on "CBS This Morning" alongside attorney Michael Avenatti to discuss her experiences at the facility, and the "injustice" that pushed her to blow the whistle.

"What made me pull out a phone [to video tape] was knowing that what these kids were getting psychologically was affecting them tremendously, and physically as well," she told the station, referring to a cell phone footage showing several children eating inside a room, and one upset little girl crying for her mother. It was the first non-governmental video showing the inside of a facility serving the young victims of Trump's "zero tolerance" policy.

According to Baez, Cayuga is increasingly overwhelmed by the number of children in their care, and sometimes unable to provide them with sufficient medical treatment. "With the psychological trauma that was going on, a lot of the kids weren't being seen right away," she said.

When Baez did offer them a chance to speak with a doctor, she said the "kids would start automatically crying because they didn't have the opportunity to speak to their parents that have been in detention centers." One child, she said, still hasn't spoken to his parents after a month-and-a-half in the facility.

In a phone conversation with Gothamist, attorney Michael Avenatti estimated that there are 600 children currently living in the East Harlem facility—more than double the number that the mayor has previously said are in New York City.

"There's overcrowding, and the staff-to-child ratio is completely out of whack," he said. "They don’t have adequate medical care. They don't have adequate telephones to communicate with their parents and the various detention centers."

Both Baez and her attorney also said the facility was not doing enough to connect the children to their parents. "Reunification of these children with their parents, which should be the number one priority, appears to be an after-thought," Avenatti said. "The center does not get a pass."

A representative for Cayuga did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier this month, the director of one local facility housing immigrant youth defended their role in the separations, explaining, "We are the people who know how to care for these children. We're trying to do that in the way that we know how."

But the source also admitted that the facilities were not prepared to deal with the surge of unaccompanied children entering the state—at least 700, as of June 21st, according to Governor Cuomo. "There doesn't seem to be a method for this," the director of the facility said. "We get a phone call from [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] and they say, 'Hey, we're arriving at JFK. We have three kids with us.'"

In Baez's view, the situation will only deteriorate, unless those who've witnessed the children's suffering firsthand are willing to come forward.

"I think that by actually coming out and showing my face will give the courage to other people to actually do the same," she said. "Because right now it's now or never. This is the time to reunite these families and this is what needs to happen now."

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