Two of eight migrant children brought to a Long Island shelter after being separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border have been reunited with their parents, and plans are in place for the other six to be returned as well, the shelter’s top official said Thursday.
The migrant children staying at the MercyFirst foster care agency in Syosset and about 2,500 others had been separated from their families starting in the spring when their parents crossed into the United States illegally. The ACLU sued the federal government in March to stop family separation, and last month a federal judge ordered the children reunited with their parents by July 26. Children under 5 were to be reunited by July 10.
Of the eight children at MercyFirst, two were reunited with their parents in the past two days, said Gerard McCaffery, CEO and president of MercyFirst. The other six children remain at the Syosset facility awaiting reunification with their parents or placement with a relative in the United States.
McCaffery said he could not provide details on the reunifications of the two children because of federal privacy regulations. MercyFirst is caring for the children under a grant from the federal government.
The eight children come from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Two of the children are 14 and the others are 5, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 17.
Another child who had been under the care of MercyFirst, a 7-year-old boy from Brazil, was reunited with his father in detention last Friday, McCaffery said.
The migrant children at MercyFirst face three options, he said. Some will reunite with a parent in detention wherever the parent is held. Others will be deported to rejoin their parents in their home countries. Still others have opted to live with relatives already in the U.S. and pursue political asylum.
In all cases, the children’s parents made the decision, McCaffery said.
In general, the younger children are opting to be reunited with a parent and the older children are going to live with a relative in the U.S., he said.
“We continue to work as hard as we can to see about having these kids be with their parents or into more stable situations, and just trying to do that as quickly as possible,” McCaffery said.
While McCaffery could not provide details on the two children reunited this week, he said MercyFirst staff members accompany each child to the location where they are to meet their parents or be discharged.
“Then we don’t know what eventually happens,” he said. “We have no information and no role in the case any longer once that kid has been connected back with their parents.”
On Saturday, local critics of the separation policy are planning a protest in Huntington as part of a nationwide day of rallies. “Clearly they had no plan in place to reunify these children,” said Dr. Eve Krief, a pediatrician from Centerport. “They dehumanized these people — by taking their children.”
Earlier this week, federal officials said 1,012 children had been reunited with their parents. Justice Department attorneys are expected back in court Friday to provide U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw with a status report on reunification efforts.