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Separated Children Accountability Response Act aims to hold state-run facilities accountable

The legislation was announced ahead of Thursday’s deadline for the federal government to reunite all of the separate families.

Outside of the Cayuga Centers foster care facility

Outside of the Cayuga Centers foster care facility in East Harlem, Yeni Maricela Gonzalez Garcia, center, stands with her children, 6-year-old Deyuin, front left, 9-year-old Jamelin, right, and 11-year-old Lester, back left, after being reunited on July 13, 2018. Photo Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

State lawmakers unveiled new legislation on Wednesday aimed at New York facilities that are caring for immigrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Separation of Children Accountability Response Act, or SCAR Act, would require state-contracted facilities, such as the Cayuga Centers in East Harlem, to provide a public report outlining how many separated children are in their care every 15 days.

A failure to report the data completely and accurately would be punishable under Penal Law as filing a false instrument and could result in the revocation of a facility’s license by the Commissioner of the Office of Family and Children’s Services.

The announcement comes ahead of Thursday’s deadline for the federal government to reunite all of the children who were separated from their family at the border under the Trump administration’s since-rescinded immigration policy.

Some 2,500 children were separated from their parents under the policy. The children were sent to multiple care facilities across the country – East Harlem and the Bronx among them – while their parents were incarcerated in detention centers or federal prisons.

As of Monday, at least 879 parents had been reunited with their children, according to a joint court filing by the government and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Another 463 parents were listed as no longer in the country, but their children were, and it was unclear when or how those families would be reunited. The government could not say whether the parents were deported or left voluntarily.

State Sen. Brian Benjamin, who represents parts of Harlem and upper Manhattan, introduced the SCAR Act on Wednesday along with state Rep. Harvey Epstein.

“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,” Benjamin said. “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.”

Epstein, who represents neighborhoods on Manhattan’s east side, said the lack of transparency from the Trump administration is “truly appalling.”

“We refuse to be kept in the dark by this morally bankrupt presidential administration: with this legislation we are clawing back the information we need to understand the scale of this crisis and hold agencies accountable, so we can focus the necessary resources to reunite families,” he added.

The legislation has the backing of Rep. Rebecca Seawright and the NYS Council of Churches, as well as the faith-based nonprofit New Sanctuary Coalition, which specializes in immigration issues.

The 2018 New York State legislative session ended on June 20. State lawmakers will not convene again to consider new legislation until January, unless a special session is called.

With Reuters

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