Healing a SCAR: This Bill Helps Migrant Parents Find the Children Trump Stole

Issue 246

Steven Wishnia May 3, 2019

With the Trump administration not bothering to keep track of where it sent the thousands of children it took away from their parents at the Mexican border, two New York State legislators have introduced a bill to keep tabs on those sent to child-welfare agencies here.

‘I don’t think there’s anything more despicable… Kids have died in detention.’

The Separation of Children Accountability Response Act, sponsored by Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and state Sen. Brian Benjamin (both D-Manhattan), would require agencies hired by the federal government to take care of “unaccompanied alien children” to report to the state every month how many are in their care. They would have to give the Office of Children and Family Services details about how many were taken away from their parents, how many were returned to their parents, how many were put in foster care, and what languages they speak.

“We were all outraged about the children being separated at the border,” says Epstein. “This is something New York can do.” As the state has the right to regulate its own foster-care system, he explains, it can mandate that agencies “report who comes into their facilities.”

The Trump administration, which has put the children it took away into group homes, foster care, and tents in the desert near the border, “has not provided information” on how many of them are in New York, but Epstein believes it’s “hundreds,” mostly in foster care.

“I don’t think there’s anything more despicable than that,” he says. “Kids have died in detention.”

The bill has been cosponsored by 35 senators, more than the 32 needed to pass in the upper house, and more than 50 Assemblymembers, a majority of the Democrats. However, Epstein’s not sure how much attention it will be able to command in the last six weeks of the legislative session, which will be devoted largely to debating legislation that would strengthen rent regulations, legalize marijuana, and allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“We’ll do the best we can,” he says.

Photo: A child looks into the United States during a School of the Americas Watch protest in Nogales, Arizona. Credit: Peg Hunter.

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