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Head Of Harlem Foster Home Says Agency Is Looking After 'Tender, Vulnerable' Unaccompanied Minors

Cayuga Center in Harlem, where an unknown number of children separated at the border are believed to be living
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Cayuga Center in Harlem, where an unknown number of children separated at the border are believed to be living Gooogle Maps

UPDATE: On Thursday morning, dozens of children, ranging in age from about 5 to 11, were seen entering the Cayuga Center, according to the NY Post. The kids shielded their faces as they were brought into the East Harlem facility, where Mayor Bill de Blasio says at least 239 kids who were separated from their parents at the border are currently staying. More of those children arrived at LaGuardia Airport late Wednesday night, where they were greeted by chants and welcome signs from hundreds of New Yorkers. It is currently unclear how many of the thousands of migrant children forcibly removed from their families are staying in New York, and whether or not they'll be reunited with their families.

The head of an East Harlem foster home believed to be housing young immigrants separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border confirmed to Gothamist on Wednesday morning that the agency is caring for "unaccompanied children," and added that he didn't want to speak further for fears of violating a contract with the federal government.

"What I'm doing is respecting the terms of the contract, and it's important to respect these kids," Edward Hayes, the president and CEO of Cayuga Home For Children, said by phone on Wednesday. "These are tender, vulnerable kids who don't deserve to be frightened. They're incredibly heroic kids and we're trying to take care of them."

"I'd say that they're the kind of kids America needs right now—and I probably just got myself in trouble," he added.

The comments come after NY1 captured "unusual footage" outside the foster home, in which five Spanish speaking girls were escorted into the center around 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. An hour later, the children left in a van with black coverings over their heads. The woman accompanying the children emphatically denied that they'd been separated from their families at the border, and no one else at the foster home has commented publicly so far.

Asked about the footage on Wednesday morning, Hayes told Gothamist, "I think children are suffering more because reporters are chasing them with cameras, which look a lot like gangs with guns in El Salvador. The reality is my agency is going to do right by these children." He noted that the home—which was founded as an orphanage in 1852—has a "tremendous track record" of placing children with families. There are "different levels of sponsorships," he added, in the event that the children have no family members in the region.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services confirmed on Tuesday that some children who were taken from their families at the border are being sent to New York, but would not provide numbers or locations for the kids. Hours later, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to file a lawsuit against President Trump on the grounds that his administration is "violating the Constitutional rights of thousands of immigrant children and their parents who have been separated at the border."

WNYC's Matt Katz reported late Tuesday that 10 nonprofit agencies in New York have multi-million dollar contracts with the federal government to provide care for those children. Those facilities include Cayuga in East Harlem and Mercy First in Long Island, where eight children are believed to be living. They were reportedly sent there not because of family connections in the region, but because the federal government is in desperate need of beds to house the children of parents they've detained.

The NYCLU estimates that 200 children taken from their parents at the border are currently living in the New York area. The Office of Refugee Resettlement did not respond to a request for comment.

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