When she heard about the children from the border, Amy Withers wanted to do more.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had just revealed that more than 350 children ripped from their immigrant parents had been cared for by one NYC service provider since April. There are likely more such children, somewhere in the city.
So Withers, 45, rather than just call elected officials or donate, went to East Harlem in hopes of becoming a foster parent.
She is already the mother of two adopted children. Her 9-year-old daughter was born in this country to an immigrant from Ecuador illegally in the United States.
“It just makes us think: What if?” Withers says, trailing off. What if her daughter had crossed the U.S.-Mexico southern border, or was born in detention? What if the child found herself alone? Now her daughter likes to speak English more than Spanish — but when she was younger? What if she didn’t know how to call for help? “It makes my skin crawl,” Withers says.
On Wednesday, Withers’s daughter wasn’t feeling well so she picked her up from an after-school program. At home, Withers told her that the U.S. government was taking children away from their mommies and daddies. Some of the children are in New York and they need a place to stay, Withers explained.
She says her daughter grabbed her.
“Are they gonna take me away from you?” she said her daughter asked.
No, Withers said. No, that’s not going to happen. Her daughter calmed down. Then she told her mother she should go to her meeting.
Which is what brought Withers to a quiet East Harlem street Wednesday evening, in a building taken up mostly by an auto shop where she’d heard Cayuga Centers, a service provider, was holding an information session about taking in some of the children separated from their parents at the border.
Cayuga did not widely advertise this session. Harried staffers questioned people at the mostly closed and unlabeled door, asking whether applicants had been invited and were fluent in Spanish. But still, there was a small crowd, New Yorkers doing what they could to help.
Cayuga staffers were being careful. De Blasio said earlier Wednesday that the service provider, merely doing what was possible for children in trauma, had received threats that were referred to the NYPD.
In the end, Withers was told the meeting was at capacity. She wanted to do her part, but instead would have to trust, with little evidence, that the federal government will find a way to get the horrible, self-made situation under control. She went home to her daughter, who she could comfort, and promise that they would never be torn apart, never.