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Long Island

Manhasset congregation funds immigrant kids' legal fight

A Manhasset congregation is seeking to help immigrant children who entered the country illegally as unaccompanied minors by funding efforts to safeguard the legal rights of many of them on Long Island.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock is tapping into its endowment to give $400,000 this year to four Long Island organizations helping the children.

Congregation members voted to issue the funds so the children who have come to the United States fleeing poverty and violence can have a good start here, said Nancy Chen Baldwin, the fellowship's president.

"This is so ingrained in our beliefs of wanting to make the world a better place," Chen Baldwin said. "What we are hoping is that these children are well-represented from the legal perspective, so that they don't get deported. We want them to be safe and to know they are represented by legal counsel."

The funds are split in grants of $100,000 each that will go to Catholic Charities in Amityville, the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead and Brentwood, the Hofstra Law Access to Justice Incubator at the Hofstra School of Law in Hempstead, and the Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in Central Islip.

The grants are in addition to a partnership announced last month. In that effort, several groups and foundations, including the Unitarian Universalist group in Manhasset, gathered $500,000 to kick-start services for those children.

More than 3,000 immigrants younger than 18, mostly from Central America, resettled here in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Another 240 arrived in Nassau and Suffolk counties since October, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

"It's a humanitarian crisis, and many of these children should be treated like refugees," said Carmen Maquilon, refugee services director at Catholic Charities. "It's great when organizations can come together and provide the means for the children to be properly represented."

In New York, 1,413 children sought the special legal status afforded to unaccompanied minors during the last fiscal year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, although nearly 6,000 arrived in the state during that time.

The low number of petitions is partly due to lack of legal representation, advocates said.

"We've had 10-year-olds showing up with parents, guardians or sometimes a friend to appear before a judge," said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center. "It's not a good situation for justice . . . when that happens."

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