President Donald Trump may have signed an executive order yesterday stopping the separation of parents and children illegally entering at the Mexico-U.S. border, but that doesn’t mean that people have forgotten about the more than 2,300 youths placed into detention centers and foster care facilities since the administration’s zero tolerance policy took effect in April.
Among those facilities is Mercy First in Syosset, a nonprofit organization, where eight children-ranging in age from 6-12-were taken last week. The Syosset location was also the backdrop of a press conference organized by Congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley, who criticized the president for allowing families to be separated.
“What has our country become when we tear babies away from their mothers? As a mom, my heart breaks for these families. There is no justification for the horror being inflicted on these young children by President Trump and his Republican Party,” said Shirley. “This is state-sanctioned child abuse.”
Julia Fenster, board member of the National Organization for Women and founder of Action Together Long Island, added that the executive order signed by the president on June 20 was not nearly sufficient.
“We have to look at the details. How are we going to help these kids? We’re outraged when we hear of one child gone missing in this country. Now we’ve got kids scattered all over the country. We don’t know if they’ll ever find their parents,” Fenster said. “The executive order has to have a firm, concise and direct plan in place for what we’re going to do with the innocent kids who have been left victims of this crisis.”
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representative told Anton Media Group that the agency will make “every effort to reunite the child with the parent once the parent’s immigration case has been adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and/or the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). ICE is committed to connecting family members as quickly as possible after separation so that parents know the location of their children and have regular communication with them in line with ICE policies and detention standards.”
According to a DHS fact sheet, children who are separated from their parents are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS ORR), which works to locate a sponsor, such as a relative, guardian or close family friend. If none is found, the child is placed into temporary foster care or facilities, including the Mercy First Facility in Syosset.
Separated parents have been advised to call a 24/7 hotline to locate or communicate with a child in the custody of ORR. They can also call the ICE Detention Reporting and Information Line.
“ICE and ORR will work together to locate separated children, verify the parent/child relationship, and set up regular communication and removal coordination, if necessary,” said an ICE representative.
And though legislation has stopped any further families from being separated, the fate of the 2,300—including those at Mercy First—is still up in the air. However, physicians and mental health professionals say that the trauma of separation will surely cause long-lasting emotional effects for these children.
“As a pediatrician, I can tell you that separating children from their parents goes against everything that we stand for,” said Dr. Eve Krief, local pediatrician and founder of Long Island Inclusive Communities Against Hate. “Highly stressful situations like family separation can cause irreparable harm to a child, affecting long- and short-term health, and carrying lifelong consequence. They will never trust anyone again. This should be a nonpartisan issue—everyone should be advocating for immediate reunification.”
Krief added that separating children from their parents causes “toxic stress,” where affects brain development and can have lifelong health effects.
“The children are terrified. They don’t speak the language, they don’t know anybody…they’re exhibiting behavior you’d see in a child with PTSD or who has been abused,” Krief said.