As local and state officials demand more information about the hundreds of immigrant children who were brought to New York after being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, lawyers are concerned about who is taking responsibility for the kids.
The efforts to reunite families are only made more difficult by the unsettled details of which government entities are responsible for the kids’ well-being, Morghan Richardson, a partner in family law at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, said.
“Who is responsible if something happens to these kids? I don’t think anyone really knows the answer,” said the Manhattan attorney.
Richardson is the captain of the New York chapter of Lawyer Moms of America, a grass-roots volunteer group that formed in response to the family separations, which happened under President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy.
“Within one week, we had 14,000 members,” 1,200 of whom are in New York, Richardson said. The group plans to deliver letters to congressional members in every state next Friday, demanding that immigrant families be reunited and that lawmakers pass legislation making family separation and family detention illegal, she said.
The separated children without sponsors “should still be viewed as within custody of [the] Office of Refugee Resettlement,” the federal agency that relocated them after they crossed the border, Richardson said, adding that elected officials are likely to “point the finger back to ORR” if “anything were to happen to kids housed here.”
At least 300 immigrant children are believed to be in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday, but he doesn’t know exactly where all of them are. Both he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have sent letters to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the ORR, asking for more information. Neither had gotten a response as of Friday afternoon.
“Repeated efforts by the City of New York to get clarity about where the children are, who they are, what they need, how they will be reunited with the parents — we’re getting no real answer,” de Blasio said on WNYC Friday. “So, what we’re trying to do is create the legal support both for the kids and the parents and that’s literally thousands of miles apart.”
De Blasio and Cuomo have taken different approaches to their requests for information from HHS. While the mayor repeatedly asks for information on “how the federal government will provide” care to children housed in the city, the governor asserts the state’s constitutional right to “provide for the health and welfare of everyone within our borders” while requesting similar information.
The kids are being treated as if they crossed by themselves, Richardson said.
“They are deemed unaccompanied minors. But usually an 8-month-old doesn’t cross the border by themselves, or even a 2-year-old.
“They’re being treated in a process that is not designed for them. ”