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Family separation policy's impact on NYC discussed at City Council hearing

Council Speaker Corey Johnson called the family separation policy "immoral."

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, criticized how the federal government has handled immigration enforcement during testimony at New York City Hall on Thursday. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

About a dozen of 350 or so migrant children sent to the New York City area have been reunited with their families after having been separated under President Donald Trump’s since-rescinded immigration policy, officials of Catholic Charities told the City Council on Thursday.

The children — all younger than 5 and most from Central and South America — have been given over to family in the prior two days under a federal court order, and several more reunifications are in the works, said C. Mario Russell, a Catholic Charities lawyer whose agency has handled the children’s legal representation.

The Trump administration is under order by the federal court, which is in San Diego, to reunite the children across the country who accompanied parents, who afterward were jailed on suspicion of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

But an additional dozen children technically eligible for reunification ahead of the rest — the judge ordered those younger than 5 to be reunited first — cannot be reunited because the Homeland Security department’s directive on such cases found it would pose a safety risk, the parent is not currently in the United States or because of other roadblocks, Russell said.

The charity representatives testified Thursday afternoon before a special City Council hearing convened to consider how the separation policy affected New York City.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) called the policy “immoral” and asked, “what the hell is going on in our country?” Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn) said the immigration policy is “cruel” and “unjust.” And Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) described it as a “sick nexus of cruelty and ineptitude.”

Lutheran Social Services of New York’s president and chief executive Damyn Kelly, whose agency is caring for some of the children, said the Trump administration’s reunification process had been “haphazard.”

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, said “there is no plan” by the Trump administration guiding the reunifications. In one case, a reunification was to be the following day, only to be canceled by the government at 11 the night before.

“What kind of disruption is that in the life of a child who thinks, ‘Well, finally, I’m going to get back to my parents’ and now they’re told they’re not?” the monsignor said.

He added: “We don’t want to impose new trauma by not planning for the reunification.”

Sullivan said some if not all of the released parents were outfitted with monitoring ankle bracelets to track movement and told to return to court to plead asylum claims at a later date.

Social services agencies across the country are under contract with the federal government to find housing and provide social, educational and legal services to children who are transported — in some cases thousands of miles — from their border apprehension site.

Sullivan lamented how the administration had handled immigration enforcement, which Trump has defended as necessary to deter illegal immigration and punish lawbreaking.

“Come on. This is un-American. It’s un-biblical the way that we are treating people and this is just unacceptable,” he said.

Said Kelly: “God knows what would happen if we weren’t here.”

A call to the White House for comment was not immediately returned.

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