Six migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border in May are still at a Syosset shelter, the agency's president said on Monday.
Authorities have located the children's parents in Central America, but reuniting the families has been slowed by complex federal governmental requirements, said Gerard McCaffery, who heads MercyFirst, the Catholic foster care agency in Syosset that has cared for the children since they arrived in May.
“There certainly has been activity," McCaffery said, "things that we needed to do in order to kind of set the stage for these kids either to return home or be able to move to a sponsor family" in the United States.
McCaffery said he and other officials with the nonprofit shelter "are still waiting for approval from the feds for anything else to happen. So it is hard to know what time frame that would be.”
In June, a federal judge ordered the reunification of 2,500 children with their parents or guardians by the end of that month after they were separated at the border as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” anti-illegal immigration policy.
Since late July, the federal government has engaged in a massive effort to reunite the children with their families
More than 1,900 children have rejoined their parents since the judge's order. Another 200 have been placed with a sponsor or turned 18, according to the latest government figures released on Friday.
Federal authorities are now focused on locating the deported parents of 343 children and either reuniting the families in their home countries or placing the children with relatives in the United States.
The families of three of the children at MercyFirst want their children sent back to them in Central America, McCaffery said. The other three families hope to have their children housed with relatives.
“Both options are just filled with all sorts of complications to make it happen,” McCaffery said.
MercyFirst in recent weeks had up to nine of the migrant children, ages 5 to 17, but three were reunited with their families.
The remaining children are in regular contact with their parents, McCaffery said. They attend the year-round school at MercyFirst, undergo counseling, he said, and “do things that kids their age would end up doing when they are on summer break."
They “are holding up,” McCaffery said, but “like any kids, they have their moments when it can be very upsetting. But they’re doing pretty good.”
McCaffery said his staff is trying to keep the children up to date on when they can expect to leave the shelter.
"But it is tough," he said. "The younger you are, the more difficult it is."