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Advocates: New York is leader for migrant children

September 16, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — New York state is a national leader in helping thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have fled Central America for the United States, but more funding is needed to give them a normal life, advocates told state legislators Tuesday.

Organizations that provide shelter, legal, medical and social services urged lawmakers at a state Assembly hearing in Manhattan to bolster aid for these children. The Rev. Kevin Sullivan, who heads Catholic Charities in the New York diocese, said the state should invest about $24 million.

“By investing under $4,000 in each of these kids, we think you can build a future and create thousands of new, productive New Yorkers who are going to be contributing taxpayers to New York state,” he said.

More than 66,000 children were taken into custody between October of last year and August 2014 after crossing the U.S. border, most fleeing murder, gang violence and poverty in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The federal government is paying for their care in shelters.

At least 4,000 are in New York state — 2,000 on Long Island alone — and thousands more are expected this year. Ranging in age from 5 to 17, they face court hearings to determine whether they are allowed to stay in the United States or be deported.

Despite lawyers’ pro bono work on behalf of the children, there’s still a shortage of attorneys, said Lenni Benson, who heads the New York Law School Safe Passage Project that coordinates volunteers.

Commissioner Nisha Argarwal of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs said that compared to other states, New York’s federal immigration court has had “a very humane approach” to children who would be in danger if they were forced to return.

The New York court has granted asylum in more than 80 percent of cases, compared to a national average of about 50 percent, officials said.

About 90 percent of the children coming to New York state are reuniting with parents or relatives who have often not seen them in years.

New York is second only to Texas in the number of migrant minors.

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