Rivertowns Touched by Separated Families Controversy

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by Barrett Seaman –

Photo by Kimberly Marcus
photo by Kimberly Marcus

Local protests and public condemnations of the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of detaining and separating refugee children from their families along the Mexican border continued even after the President’s so-called “reversal” of the practice. As expected, local Westchester and New York State elected officials, at least the Democrats, spoke out vehemently against the policy, but the connection to the Hudson Valley has been more tangible than that. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, some 700 refugee children have been transferred into New York State-licensed agencies, two of them, Irvington’s Abbott House and Dobbs Ferry’s Children’s Village, right here in the Rivertowns. Trump’s executive order allegedly stopping the separations notwithstanding, some of the children were coming into the state as recently as Thursday morning, according to the governor.

Hastings-on-Hudson
photo by Kimberly Marcus

Protests, several of then organized by local students and by the activist group Indivisible, were scheduled Wednesday in concert with World Refugee Day. Protesters from Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown and Irvington convened in Tarrytown’s Patriot Park. County Executive George Latimer declared himself “heartbroken and outraged over the mistreatment of immigrant families at the border” and called on the federal government to stop separating children from their families. Governor Cuomo took it a step further, promising to file a “multi-agency” lawsuit on grounds that the policy violated parents’ constitutional right to maintain custody of their own children.

Even after the President reversed the separation policy, Cuomo told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he would press on. “…I’ll bet you dollars to donuts they’re still going to insist on the arrest of the family at the border.”

Indeed, on Thursday, Cuomo charged that, far from reversing himself, or making a 180-degree turn, Trump had done a 360-degree turn. “He wound up exactly where he was,” the governor told reporters in a phone press conference.” It was a political pirouette to fool the press. And the political pirouette was partially successful because the headlines say the President reversed himself. He did not reverse himself. The Executive Order came full circle.”

Cuomo sent a letter to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar demanding to know which agencies in the state were receiving refugee children forcefully separated from their families so that he could fulfill what he said was his legal obligation to provide for support for them while they are in New York.

He also charged that a “federal gag order” had been placed on these agencies, including Abbott House and Children’s Village, preventing them from divulging any information about refugees sent to them by HHS and the Office for Refugee Resettlement, through which Abbott House and other agencies are contracted to shelter these children.

Cuomo also sought to poke holes in the administration’s argument that they had stopped separating children from their families. (See following transcript of Governor Cuomo’s statement) “Why,” the governor asked rhetorically, “would you not want to give these children the health and human services assistance that they need?’

The governor asserted that he was offering the assistance at state expense. “Why would you not be willing to tell me where the children are so I can get them help?,” he asked. “It is incredible. The HHS Secretary, Health and Human Services, depriving children who [sic] they traumatized of getting health and human services. It’s a disgrace.”

Officials at Irvington’s Abbott House, as Cuomo predicted, would not comment on how many separated children were now under their care, but it is known that all beds are full at the facility. As always, donations of clothing, toys, art supplies and some books are always appreciated.


TRANSCRIPT OF GOVERNOR CUOMO STATEMENT CONCERNING LETTER TO SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES DEMANDING INFORMATION ON IMMIGRANT CHILDREN HOUSED IN NEW YORK

Governor Cuomo: “It’s my legal responsibility to provide for the health and welfare of the children in my state. They are in my state and I intend to fulfill my legal responsibility, even if they’re going to abrogate theirs.”

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding information on the immigrant children being housed in New York to ensure that appropriate services are being provided.

Governor Cuomo: Hello, thank you for getting on. I want to talk about the ongoing border situation and the effect on New York State. As you know, HHS has been moving children around the country, finding agencies that can house them. They’re coming and going in the middle of the night, they’re moving from agency to agency. We have agencies telling us they’re getting frenetically contacted by HHS to find out what capacity the agency has. They’re being sent children with no information. Literally, no evaluations. And it’s happening all across the state. We could have as many as 700 children in our state. When they are being sent to an agency, they’re being sent with a federal gag order where the agency cannot tell the state how many children they have or any of the particulars about the children they have. The HHS has also been shuffling children from agency to agency. Which makes it even harder to track.

Legally, the state certifies these foster care agencies. And we regulate them. Constitutionally, the state has the responsibility for the health and welfare of children within our borders, both citizens and non-citizens. It is our Constitutional responsibility. We have the legal responsibility for the health and welfare of children within our borders, whether they are citizens or non-citizens.

I placed a call to the Secretary of HHS this morning saying it’s urgent. Saying that the State wants to know where they children are so that we can provide support services. My Commissioner of Health has said, as have many other health professionals in the country, that these children certainly have suffered psychological and physiological trauma. Being taken from their parents, put on busses, but on airplanes, sent all over the country. So, as it’s my Constitutional responsibility, I want to provide mental health services, support services, counseling services at the State’s expense. But I have the legal right to know where the children are because I have the legal responsibility for the health and welfare of the children. And we’re now running into this federal gag order where the agencies can’t even tell us where the children are.

I sent a letter to the HHS Secretary. It is absurd, inhumane, and violative of the HHS Secretary’s mission, and I believe oath of office to deprive children who need health services from providing those services. And again, the State will do it at the State’s expense. I have heard absolutely nothing back from HHS. We’re contacting the individual agencies because I do not recognize the federal gag order. Also, the reports from the President’s Executive Order is that he reversed his position. He did not reverse his position. The Executive Order was a sham. It was a press release. Reversal suggests you do a 180 degree turn. The Executive Order was a 360 degree turn. He wound up exactly where he was. It was a political pirouette to fool the press. And the political pirouette was partially successful because the headlines say the President reversed himself. He did not reverse himself. The Executive Order came full circle.

The Executive Order says, we will set up family detention centers on the border. Legally, you can’t set up family detention centers on the border. That’s what started the problem in the first place. The Flores decision and consent decree made it very clear that you cannot detain children for more than a short period of time and the purpose of detainment is only to connect them to family members or appropriate agencies. That’s what started the problem in the first place. When they went to the “zero-tolerance” policy April 7 and started arresting and detaining parents, they needed to separate the children and that started the country-wide shuffle of 2,000 or more children all across the country. So the Executive Order saying, we’ll set up family detention centers, it’s meaningless. You can’t set up family detention centers. And if you read the Executive Order, it says, DHS shall do this to the extent permitted by law. By the way, it’s not permitted by law, and that’s why the Executive Order also said, I’m directing Attorney General Sessions to go renegotiate the Flores case, because they would need to renegotiate the Flores case to allow them to hold children in a detention center. And by the way, the federal government has tried to renegotiate the Flores decision before and they’ve been wholly unsuccessful. And if you look at the past Flores decisions, they’re going to be unsuccessful again. So, the Executive Order accomplished absolutely nothing but an apparent reversal to reduce the political pressure.

So, nothing is going to change. You will have more people showing up at the border, the parents will be held, if the parents are held, the children must be released, and the flow of children, surreptitiously, across the country, will continue. The only way the President could stop it is, he would have to reverse his “zero-tolerance” policy. He would have to stop arresting and detaining. That would be a 180. And that’s what he’s unwilling to do, because if he reverses his “zero-tolerance” policy, well then he’s right back to the Obama policy and that means all the big talk about strength at the border would have been all bluster and he would be back to endorsing the policy of President Obama and he’s unwilling to do that. But if you do not reverse the “zero-tolerance” policy April 7, you cannot stop this situation, period.

And the Executive Order was a sham. It fooled many of the press. The headlines that say he reversed himself are inaccurate. He did not reverse himself. The Executive Order said, Attorney General Sessions must renegotiate Flores. I think that’s virtually impossible. At best, it would take a long period of time, which means this situation will continue for a long period of time, which means you’ll continue to have a flow of children placed ad hoc at these foster care facilities. And my point is, we should at least—it’s my state legal responsibility—for the health and welfare of those children, and I want to know where they are. They’re not political pawns that you can hide. These are children, parents, have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children and that’s the basis of my state lawsuit. And on a humanitarian level, why would you not want to give these children the health and human services assistance that they need?

I’m offering the assistance at state expense. Why would you not be willing to tell me where the children are so I can get them help? It is incredible. The HHS Secretary, Health and Human Services, depriving children who they traumatized of getting health and human services. It’s a disgrace. Beyond the camps they want to set up on the Department of Defense Bases. Beyond all the atrocities they’ve committed – this is the greatest one. They’re not sending people to the border to show compassion and sympathy? I’ll tell you how to show compassion and sympathy, let’s at least get services and support to the children you ripped from the arms of their parents. And to deprive the children of that support and service, takes this injustice to a gross new level. I have yet to hear back from the HHS Secretary. It’s my legal responsibility to provide for the health and welfare of the children in my state. They are in my state and I intend to fulfill my legal responsibility, even if they’re going to abrogate theirs.

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