At least a dozen children separated from their families by the Trump administration’s now-reversed immigration policy have been seen by doctors in New York City hospitals, but that number is likely much higher than doctors know of, Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said.
Eight children, ranging from as young as 5 years old to teenagers, have been brought to NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx, while another four have been seen by doctors at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, officials said during an afternoon news conference Thursday. All of the children known to city officials were brought in by their foster families.
Katz said the number of health cases related to immigrant children separated from their parents has increased to a point where hospital officials are warning of the need to organize a specified response in handling them.
“It strikes me that since there are strong reasons why people would not identify into these circumstances, we should assume at least that there are two or three times more the number who have likely been brought to us that we’re not aware of,” he added.
The children who have been treated by doctors in the Bronx over the last few weeks have suffered from ailments such as asthma, constipation and depression, according to Dr. Daran Kaufman, the director of pediatric emergency services at NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx. She said they generally don’t have any medical records with them.
“Although we’ve been able to treat their medical diagnoses, they are sad, despondent, and we are unable to treat the emotional scars that they’re presenting with,” she said. “My clinicians and I have been feeling helpless.”
First lady Chirlane McCray, who convened the news conference, said these separated children could face an increased risk for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and attention deficit disorders.
“The trauma caused by this separation is serious and long lasting,” she said. “As any parent, any expert, any health care professional will tell you: the risks associated with tearing children from their families are very real.”
McCray said the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC will donate $10,000 to pay for “affinity objects,” or items like teddy bears, which help children cope with trauma.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking to NY1 from the Texas border town of Tornillo, said on Thursday that he still does not know exactly how many of the separated children are in New York City. His requests for more information from the federal government have yielded little results.
“We have asked the federal government, we have asked [Health and Human Services], homeland security to give us answers to these very questions we’ve asked. We’re not getting answers. We’re going to keep demanding them,” the mayor said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his office estimates there are about 700 immigrant children placed in care agencies across New York, but it was unclear how many are in the city specifically. He said the number is inexact because foster care agencies are bound by a federal gag order.
While feds have been tight-lipped, de Blasio said the staff at the Cayuga Centers foster care facility in East Harlem — where 239 separated migrant children are being cared for — has been cooperative with the city and forthcoming with information.
The Cayuga Center is one of several organizations in the city that have contracts with the federal government to provide care and services for immigrant children separated from their parents.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said on Wednesday his office has been in contact with at least two social service providers in the borough who have contracts similar to Cayuga’s.
Catholic Guardian Services and Lutheran Social Services of New York have taken on “a new population” of children who were separated from their parents at the border, Diaz said in an emailed statement Wednesday night.
The borough president did not say how many separated children were being cared for by the organizations, adding that the groups would not disclose where they were being housed due to the “sensitive nature of the current situation.”
“I have been assured by leadership at both organizations that these children are receiving the best possible care,” Diaz added. “They are not in prisons. They are going to school, receiving medical and counseling services, and are afforded legal representation in immigration court where appropriate.”
Diaz vowed to continue monitoring Catholic Guardian Services and Lutheran Social Services of New York to ensure the children are being cared for.
A prayer vigil and rally for the children, one of several protests happening around the city, is being planned by the borough president’s office. New Yorkers are expected to gather on the steps of the Bronx County Building, located at 851 Grand Concourse, around noon on Friday.
Twenty-three City Council members have also signed a letter that was sent to those two organizations, as well as the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, asking for a tour of three facilities they believe are housing separated immigrant children, but the request had not been granted, as of Thursday afternoon.
More than 2,300 children were ripped away from their parents at the United States-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9 under the Trump administration’s now-rescinded family separation policy, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Outrage over the policy hit a fever pitch this week after audio of immigrant children crying for their parents and images of children being kept in metal cages at a Texas detention center shocked citizens and elected officials alike.
Despite defending the policy on multiple occasions and wrongly asserting that it could only be undone by congressional legislation, President Donald Trump made an about-face Wednesday, signing an executive order to allow families who cross the border illegally to stay together while they’re held in U.S. custody.
On Thursday, Trump said he would direct federal agencies to begin the reunification process for the children and parents who have been separated, but further details on how that would be achieved were not made available.