UNCOVERING THE UNCOUNTED: Immigrant Child Detainees

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There are, reportedly, as many as 14,000 migrant children being held in detention centers across the country.  

Facts about how many unaccompanied minors have entered and are being detained at facilities located specifically in New York have been shrouded in secrecy.  This led to members of the state legislature introduced the Separation of Children Accountability Response Act (SCAR Act) last year in an effort to increase the transparency of the process. 


Where does the legislation stand now? Assembly Member Harvey Epstein was on this week's Represent NYC discussing the Scar Act's status.  

State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly Member Epstein co-sponsored the SCAR act last year.   It requires state-contracted facilities, like the Cayuga Center in Harlem, to provide the public with a reoccurring 15-day report outlining the number of children held within its facilities. 

The total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by immigration authorities is “unknown,” because of the lack of a coordinated formal tracking system between the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the arm of Health and Human Services that takes in the children, and the Department of Homeland Security, which separated them from their parents.

Why is all this happening now?  Under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which was first announced last May, all adults who do not enter the U.S. through a port of entry are supposed to be criminally prosecuted. This is what results in the family separation: Adults have to appear before a federal judge before undergoing deportation procedures, so they’re held in federal custody while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, their children — who are not referred for prosecution, and aren’t incarcerated with their parents — end up being sent into the custody of the Office for Refugee Resettlement.

 “The Trump administration’s response to the humanitarian crisis they have caused at the border and at child detention centers across the nation has been wildly inadequate. After being forcibly separated from their families, many young children have been brought to our state, and, despite a court order to return these children to their parents, there is no public or transparent record of the number of such children separated from their parents, their status, or ever whether or not they have been returned,” said State Senator Brian A. Benjamin.  

This SCAR report would provide essential information on the detained children, such as how many of them are currently in the system and how many have thus far been reunited with their parents. Reported information would then be made available to the public.

"The lack of transparency and public information around how many kids Trump’s nightmarish immigration policies have stripped away from their families and displaced to agencies across our state is truly appalling,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. 

"It is horrific that you can deliberately separate the children from their families," said Ravi Ragbir, Executive Director of New Sanctuary Coalition, "So I reached out to Assembly Member Epstein and to State Senator Benjamin about why we need to get involved. We started a protest at the Cayuga Center in Harlem to highlight the issue.“    Ragbir appeared, on last week’s Represent NYC to offer updates and insight on how the SCAR act can and will change lives.  His coalition aims to activate congregations and other allies in their “accompaniment program,” and offers a weekly legal clinic to help those facing deportation manage their cases.