The eight children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border and placed in a Long Island facility have spoken to their parents by telephone — and two more children are now living there, officials said Monday.
It’s unclear why the number of separated children grew at the Syosset-based MercyFirst facility over this past weekend. President Donald Trump on Wednesday stopped the policy of separating children from parents when they are apprehended trying to cross the border from Mexico illegally.
Neither MercyFirst nor the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for housing these children, responded to inquiries Monday.
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) toured MercyFirst Monday morning with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, wanting to check on the well-being of the children.
Suozzi said he did not know the circumstances of why the two additional children arrived there. He also was unaware of any timetable for reuniting the 10 children with their parents.
“The good news is that eight children have spoken with their parents,” Suozzi said.
In a related development, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed state agencies to help immigrant children separated from their families with health, psychological, educational and legal resources after they are released from federal holding facilities to a relative or foster home.
The state already provides these services when immigrant children are released to temporary foster care facilities.
During their tour of MercyFirst, Suozzi and Curran said they saw the children in classroom settings and playing basketball. They said the children seemed to be doing as well as can be expected considering what they’d been through. Suozzi said there were no obvious indications of emotional upset.
Curran added that they were concerned about long-term effects.
“We are concerned about the psychological and physical toll of them being separated from parents even for a short time,” Curran said. “It can be very difficult to get over.”
The 10 migrant children are among 2,300 children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border in about the past two months.
Suozzi said they saw the children mixed with a group of 40 other children, who had been apprehended after attempting to cross the border illegally without parents.
He said their contact with the children was limited. There seemed to be an equal number of boys and girls, he said, adding that the children came from Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil and Nicaragua. There was a 4-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 6-year-old, two 7-year-olds, a 9-year-old, an 11-year-old, two 14-year-olds and a 17-year-old, Suozzi said.
“We did make a point of saying hello and good luck in rudimentary Spanish,” he said, adding that they responded in kind.
Suozzi said he was concerned to learn that some of the children had been in the Syosset facility since early May. Others came in June, and two have arrived since Friday.
Both Curran and Suozzi praised the conditions under which the children were living, which they said included good food, health care and counseling.
Curran said, “These children are being very well cared for at MercyFirst.”
Suozzi, who toured a Texas tent city for migrant children Saturday, said the current tone of politics has made a compromise on immigration policy difficult.
“Everybody is so angry, everybody is so divided,” he said.
He added, “I’m a strong believer in border security . . . But we need to treat people like human beings.”
With Michael Gormley