Local July 25, 2014 | 2:36 pm

Espaillat; immigration advocates call for humane solution to child migrants crisis

New York.- NY State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, the New York Immigration Coalition, Hispanic Federation, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, Northern Manhattan Immigration Coalition, Dominican Bar Association and immigration reform advocates addressed the escalating child immigration crisis and called for humanitarian solutions at the federal, state and city level.

“New York has always been a haven for immigrants – this crisis will test our values, and or commitment to this principle,” said Senate Latino Conference Chair Adriano Espaillat. “The rising number of undocumented children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is in part, the direct result of U.S. policy, and we must do our part to lead the way forward. We must not let xenophobic, anti-immigrant voices dictate policy and exploit this issue to erode human trafficking protections and block progress towards immigration reform. Instead, we must seek humanitarian solutions, like expanding Temporary Protected Status eligibility, and immediately identifying the costs and needs to care for these kids.”

"Children from across Central America are fleeing gang violence and are refugees when they arrive at our border," said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. "Sending the National Guard in to militarize our border, then turning these clearly helpless children around to face the terrors they’ve escaped, speaks to exactly what is wrong with our present immigration policy. These children must be given the legal right to apply for protective status and we as a country, founded upon inclusionary principles, must recognize their plight and offer our assistance."

Despite the ongoing humanitarian crisis, the U.S. has been reluctant to offer the real solutions for these children and their families made possible under current law. One example that would offer temporary relief is Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is explicitly designed to offer protection to immigrants already in the U.S. who cannot return safely to their home country because it is experiencing an armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other temporary and extraordinary crisis.

TPS is already in place for many of the family members of those children fleeing El Salvador (designated after a 2001 earthquake) and Honduras (designated after Hurricane Mitch in 1998).

However, this protection is only available to those who entered the U.S. before these events. It does not protect the newly arriving children fleeing devastating violence and conflict. TPS should be re-designated with expanded eligibility for Salvadorans and Hondurans. It should also be designated for the first time ever for Guatemalans.

These designations would ensure that individuals awaiting immigration court decisions are protected, and federal, state, and local authorities coordinating humanitarian responses can plan accordingly. In the alternative, children whose parents hold TPS should have their court cases closed and receive deferred action.

Opposing Conservative Legislation to Weaken Human Trafficking Protections

Anti-immigrant conservatives have seized on the current child refugee crisis to erode bi-partisan legislation protecting victims of human trafficking. Congressional legislation including the misleadingly named “Humane Act” (S. 2611/H.R. 5114) would lead to the heartless deportation of children who face fates including prostitution and violence upon their return. The Humane Act would earn the U.S. international condemnation and scorn, and would do nothing to solve the long-term structural issues that have resulted in this crisis.

Ensuring New York Does its Part in this National Crisis

While many states and municipalities have been quick to abdicate all responsibility in caring for undocumented minors that have sought shelter in the U.S., other localities have already affirmed their commitment to assisting in this crisis.

New York City and State must be a leader in the movement to ensure that the immigrant children in U.S. custody are properly cared for and treated with the dignity that all people deserve. This includes a commitment to securing permanent housing options in the least restrictive settings possible for immigrant children, including placement within the existing foster care system for New York City and other municipalities when family members or other guardians cannot be identified.

Caring for these children will also require a corresponding investment in mental health and support services, to assist a population that has experienced violence, health risks, and other issues. Costs and funding mechanisms for these services should be quickly identified so that New York’s capacity to assist can be determined. At the federal level, this effort must also include additional legal resources so that impacted children receive the attention they deserve in a timely fashion, and the number of federal immigration judges can be increased.

“The lives of tens of thousands of children are at risk and we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to offer them the safety and security that they can’t get back home,” said José Calderón, President of the Hispanic Federation. “Washington must consider any and all options to both treat these children humanely and ensure due process. And New York, as a long-standing beacon of hope and opportunity for millions of immigrants before, must play a role in housing and supporting these vulnerable children. We thank Senator Espaillat for his leadership in bringing us together to discuss the humanitarian crisis our country is currently facing.”

“New York has always been a welcoming state for immigrants. In the face of this humanitarian crisis, it is our State’s moral duty to help these children, who have faced harrowing and traumatic journeys over thousands of miles to flee violence, rape and death,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “The NYIC’s member agencies have already seen large numbers of migrant children – many of whom have legitimate claims to legal remedies such as asylum and refugee status – in upstate, Long Island, and New York City. We look forward to working with our partners, including the State legislature, City and State agencies, legal service providers, social service agencies and others to ensure that we can respond to these children’s needs with quality shelter and legal, social, educational, and psychological support.”

“New Yorkers have a moral duty to respond to the ongoing refugee crisis at our border,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. Senator Espaillat should be commended for his leadership and I join his call for a coordinated local, state, and federal response to this humanitarian emergency. Our city has always been a place that opens the doors of opportunity to people seeking a better life for themselves and their families—who in turn put down roots, open businesses, and make our neighborhoods stronger. These immigrants are some of the world’s most vulnerable people—children who have traveled thousands of miles alone. Together, we can set an example for the rest of the country by offering these youth the services, safety, and rights all people deserve.”

“The health and well-being of a child should never be compromised, regardless of his or her immigration status,” said Bill Weisberg Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of The Children’s Aid Society. “Some members of Congress have offered a misguided approach to dealing with this humanitarian crisis. Children’s Aid is proud to offer services to any child in distress, and I trust that New York can serve as a model for other states during these difficult times.”

“Whether it be the words accompanying the Statue of Liberty or those of Jesus, our best instincts welcome those who are poor and seeking refugee – especially children,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities. “The current crisis calls out to the best within us. Catholic Charities has a longstanding commitment to welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees, including unaccompanied minor children. We have welcomed these children, defended their rights and protected them from exploitation. We will continue to do so. Our nation, our state, our City must find the will and the resources to do so. We can do no less.”

"Governor Perry sent an irresponsible message to Washington, Mexico, and all of Central America in responding to our child refugee crisis with 1,000 National Guard troops at the border,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “In stark contrast, New York continues to do the right thing by providing these children with social and legal services. A serious humanitarian crisis is not the time to try and score cheap political points. New York needs to be a national leader on this issue by countering anti-immigrant sentiments with compassion and understanding."

“This is a humanitarian crisis that has developed in part because of our broken immigration policies,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “We are a country of immigrants and we need immigration reform that is effective, meets our economic and social needs, and honors our American values. I am proud to join my colleagues and advocates in demanding that government help the thousands of children coming to our country in an effort to escape atrocious living situations.”

"Our response to this humanitarian crisis must be a reflection of our compassion and care for those children seeking protection,” said Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez. “I urge the Department of Homeland Security to extend the Temporary Protected Status Program for El Salvador and Honduras, and for the House and Senate to dismiss any legislation which aims to deport these children. New York City and State can, and will, play an important role in providing the refuge that is needed."

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