By Jillian Jorgensen And Edgar Sandoval
There are 239 immigrant children separated from their parents and now in the custody of a social service organization in East Harlem that is placing them in foster homes, Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday -- and the youngest is just 9 months old.
De Blasio revealed the figures after visiting the East Harlem location of Cayuga Centers, a social service organization that has $76 million in contracts with the federal government to care for immigrant children and which offers "immigrant foster care," according to its website. His revelation comes after the city asked the federal government for such information but has not received it.
"Stop this broken inhumane policy and come clean with the truth. Who are these children? How many are they? Where are they? What is happening here?" de Blasio asked outside the facility. "How is it possible that none of us knew that there were 239 kids right here in our city? How is the federal government holding back that information? Holding back the help that these kids could get."
De Blasio said the children arriving in East Harlem need both mental health assistance and physical help -- with some arriving with lice, bedbugs, chickenpox and other contagious illnesses.
While Cayuga is caring for 239 children separated at the border, over the last two months it has cared for 250 such children, de Blasio said -- noting it is "just one of the centers in New York City" with contracts from the federal government to care for such kids.
"These children are across a whole range of ages. The youngest to come here they told us is just nine months old," de Blasio said. "We are talking about children who in some cases can't even communicate. Have no idea what's happening to them with no ability to be in touch with their families."
Before his visit, de Blasio spoke of a 9-year-old boy from Honduras separated from his mother at the border and sent to Cayuga in East Harlem.
De Blasio said Eddie's mother is detained in Texas; he'd spoken to the child's aunt, who said she, his grandmother and his detained mother are "worried sick."
"They can't see him, and they don't know what's going on with him, and they don't know what his future is," de Blasio said from City Hall's Blue Room.
The child and his mother fled Honduras weeks ago, he said, escaping a life-threatening situation to seek asylum in the United States.
"The journey was dangerous but they were fleeing an even greater danger. And the one thing Eddie knew was he had his mother by his side," de Blasio said. "And that continued until the moment our government took him away from his mother."
That happened at the border, where Eddie was put on a bus, without any family, for a 2,000-mile ride to New York City -- ending at a shelter run by Cayuga Centers in East Harlem, which has a contract to care for unaccompanied minor immigrants. The federal government has been treating the separated children as if they arrived unaccompanied, even though they were with parents.
A federal source told the Daily News on Tuesday that 311 children had been brought to New York's lower 14 counties after being separated from their parents at the border. Gov. Cuomo had estimated there are about 70 of them across 10 facilities. De Blasio said earlier Wednesday his office simply doesn't know the full extent.
"The sad fact is Eddie is literally one of countless children, because we're not getting any honest reporting about how many children are being treated this way and where they are and what's happening to them," he said.
Cayuga Centers had previously refused to say whether any of the children it is serving were separated from parents at the border. Late Tuesday night, NY1 shot footage of young girls being led into and out of the shelter in the dead of night.
"We still don't know the facts about those children and who they are and what's happening to them," de Blasio said. "We do know that Eddie's family says that he was held in that same facility in East Harlem and immediately after this gathering, I am going to go to that facility in East Harlem to get answers for the people of this city."
Cayuga is one of at least three agencies with contracts to provide services to unaccompanied minor immigrant children in the city -- others are Catholic Guardian Services and Lutheran Social Services, which have refused to answer questions about whether they have children separated at the border, as opposed to those who crossed alone, a population they have long served.
But outside a Bronx facility of the Catholic Guardian Services, an 11-year-old foster child told the News that there were children who were separated from their parents inside.
"Some of them was like from different places, not from here. Some of them were separated from their mom and dad and stuff," he said.
He said the children would get aggressive and cry.
"Some of them was like little-little, some of them were my age or like older than me," he said.
At a second location of Catholic Guardian Services, employees again refused to say whether separated children were there. An employee at a different agency in the building said there were no facilities there to house immigrant children.
At Lutheran Social Services, attempts to reach president Damyn Kelly were unsuccessful. When the News asked his wife, Diann, if the organization was housing separated children, she said, "I am aware of that. I am aware they are housing children."
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