Three Democratic members of Congress who together represent Westchester came together Saturday outside a facility in the county that is housing migrant children. Denied entry, the officials called on the Trump administration to immediately reunite children separated from their families who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
The facility, Rising Ground, is in Congressman Eliot Engel’s 16th district, in Yonkers.
“Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has refused to provide members of Congress with information,” Engel said. “We tried to go through official channels to visit the children being held here today, but we have been rebuffed by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Engel says the Department informed him it would be two weeks before any such visit would be allowed. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney represents the 18th District, where there is another facility reportedly housing migrant children, in Lincolndale, in the Town of Somers:
“We are the representatives of the people who pay the bills for this policy, and we have a right to go in there and see what the hell’s going on,” Maloney said. “And it is, well this is not some black site, this is not some prison in some foreign country. This is a taxpayer-funded facility in the United States, and members of Congress should be able to go in there and tell the rest of you what’s going on.”
The Department of Homeland Security Saturday issued a fact sheet on zero-tolerance prosecution and family reunification. It says that DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services have a process to ensure that family members know the location of their children and have regular communication after separation to ensure that adults who are subject to deportation are reunited with their children for the purposes of deportation. Again, Maloney, who has launched a bid for state attorney general.
“And we need to know right now if there are children in this facility who, while being labeled unaccompanied are, in fact, merely separated from the parents who somewhere else right now in the United States,” said Maloney. “And if we don’t do that right away, if we don’t do that right away, if we wait two weeks, like HHS tells us we’re supposed to, if we sit around and we’re dumb enough to let them delay for two more weeks, somebody’s parent is going to get deported and that kid’s still going to be here and those two parent and child, people are never going to get back together again.”
As of June 23, DHS says 22 unaccompanied children in their custody who were separated from adults as part of the Zero Tolerance initiative were reunited. As of June 20, the government fact sheet says there are 2,053 separated minors being cared for in HHS-funded facilities and work continues toward family reunification. And the fact sheet says 17 percent of minors in these facilities were placed there as a result of Zero Tolerance enforcement; the remaining 83 percent arrived to the U.S. unaccompanied.
The crowd that assembled was supportive of the representatives’ calls for reunification. However, one man held up a sign in support of President Trump, which Westchester County Executive George Latimer acknowledged.
“I know we got a guy holding up ‘Make America Great’. You know something? I want to make America great more than you do,” Latimer said. “I want to make America great based on the Declaration of Independence – all men and women, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness; not the pursuit of anger and the pursuit of prejudice.”
The Trump supporter wanted to know where the parents’ responsibility was in all this. Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, who recently pleaded not guilty in a public corruption case brought by the state attorney general’s office, also responded.
“Yeah, the parents have responsibility. They’re fleeing a situation where they’re being oppressed, where they’re being targeted, where they’re being basically victims of hate. And as we all work to make America great again, I got the mic, man, relax for a minute,” Thomas said. “Here’s the deal, if we’re going to make America great again, it does not involve losing our humanity. That’s it.”
Congresswoman Nita Lowey represents the 17th District.
“The administration’s use of children as sacrificial pawns is a moral outrage that has already cost lasting trauma from which many children may never recover,” Lowey said.
Eileen O’Connor lives around the corner from Rising Ground. She is a founder of NYCD 16-Indivisible.
“We want transparency about what’s happening and we want oversight about this whole process,” O’Connor said. “And I think this is a good first step.”
Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced the Central America Family Protection and Reunification Act with two other representatives. The bill would require the State Department – through embassies in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – to prioritize supporting governments and citizens of these countries to facilitate immediate family reunification. Lowey and Maloney are among numerous co-sponsors.