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MercyFirst: Plans to reunite migrant children may not make deadline

The last migrant children separated from their parents

The last migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border have left MercyFirst in Syosset. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Plans are in place to reunite the remaining eight children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and are being cared for on Long Island, but authorities said they are not certain it will happen by a court-ordered deadline of Thursday.

The children, ages 5 to 17, are being cared for by MercyFirst, a Catholic foster care agency in Syosset that is the only group on Long Island with a federal grant to take in so-called border kids separated from their parents as part of a “zero tolerance” anti-illegal immigration policy enacted by the Trump administration.

The eight children have been under the care of MercyFirst for weeks, and have three different options available to them, said Gerard McCaffery, president and CEO of MercyFirst.

Some will reunite with a parent in detention wherever the parent is being held, he said. Others will be deported to their home countries to rejoin their parent. Still others have opted to live with other relatives already in the United States and pursue the possibility of obtaining political asylum.

In all cases, the child’s parent was instrumental in making these decisions, McCaffery said. About one-third of the group selected each of the three options based on what they thought was best for them.

The children come from the Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. They are ages 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 14 (two) and 17.

“There is a plan in place,” McCaffery said. “It’s really not clear whether all this is going to happen by the 26th as there are still some logistical issues and court reviews involved.”

In general, the younger children are opting to be reunited with a parent, either in detention in the United States or in their homelands, while the older children will go to live with another relative here, he said.

 A 7-year-old boy from Brazil who was also under the care of MercyFirst was reunited with his father in detention on Friday, McCaffery said.

The agency has also been caring for a 4-year-old immigrant girl, but she was not separated from her parent at the border, he said.

The reunifications nationwide were ordered by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego in late June after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the separations. Trump reversed the separation policy in late June following a widespread outcry.

Sabraw ordered all detained children 5 and older — some 2,500 youngsters — to be reunited by Thursday. Justice Department officials said in court papers that as of Monday morning 879 of those children have been reunited. That is up from 450 on Friday, and 364 a day earlier.

Another 538 children have been interviewed and cleared for reunification, with transport pending, the Justice Department said in court papers.

Sabraw had also ordered all of the border children under 5 to be reunited by July 10. At least 57 out of 103 children in that age group have been reunited, according to federal officials.

McCaffery said that for several weeks before public controversy erupted over the separation program in mid-June, MercyFirst had already been caring for some of the separated children. In addition to the eight remaining children, the agency cared for another eight children whose discharge was already planned for by MercyFirst staff before the controversy started.

Six of those children went into detention with a parent, one agreed to voluntary deportation to his home country, and another moved in with relatives in this country while pursuing political asylum, he said.         

Authorities have designated eight U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement locations around the country where children 5 and older are to be reunified. Most have been getting released in the Southwest.

McCaffery said it is standard procedure that MercyFirst staff members accompany each child to the location where they will be reunited or discharged. After the child is transferred to an official there, “then we don’t know what eventually happens. . . . We have no information and no role in the case any longer once that kid has been connected back with their parents.”

Officials with the federal Department of Health and Services and the Department of Homeland Security have said they were “working tirelessly” to carry out the reunifications.     



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