AP NEWS

900 detained immigrant kids are in 1 NY nonprofit’s care

December 19, 2018
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FILE - In this June 21, 2018 file photo, a woman and children enter a Cayuga Centers social-services facility in New York. Cayuga Centers has gone from newcomer to one of the biggest names in the $1.5 billion-a-year business of housing immigrant kids under government detention. As of early December 2018, it was caring for nearly 900 migrant children, according to confidential government data obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — In under five years, a New York social-services organization called Cayuga Centers has gone from newcomer to one of the biggest names in the $1.5 billion-a-year business of housing immigrant children under government detention.

Now one of the nation’s five largest providers, Cayuga was caring for nearly 900 migrant children as of Monday, 78 percent more than a year ago, according to confidential government data obtained by The Associated Press . The nonprofit has helped make New York second only to Texas in the number of such youngsters, with 1,653 spread around the Empire State, the data show.

The number of detained migrant children nationwide swelled during President Donald Trump’s administration, and many youngsters stay in big shelters or detention centers.

Cayuga’s young charges, though, go to foster homes around New York City. Kids spend their days in classes, counseling and activities at a Cayuga facility while staffers work to connect them with relatives or other sponsors, the nonprofit says.

“Cayuga Centers believes these vulnerable children should be in homes with real families — not behind fences,” CEO Edward Myers Hayes told lawmakers and others at an October meeting. The text of his remarks was obtained by AP.

Some migrant children’s attorneys see Cayuga’s foster care as better than a sprawling shelter. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, visited the center in June and said it appeared the children were “being treated very well.”

Still, accommodations may be tight: As of October, Cayuga had 187 foster homes for up to 900 immigrant children, according to Hayes’ remarks. Attorneys say some kids mentioned sharing foster homes with a half-dozen or more young migrants.

One mother complained about conditions, saying Cayuga didn’t have special education for her learning-disabled 15-year-old son, and a case worker was dismissive when her 11-year-old son said another boy touched him inappropriately at his foster home.

“My sons have suffered while in custody” for over three months, the mother said in a November filing in a lawsuit challenging federal policies that lengthened the time children spend in the system. Cayuga isn’t a defendant in the suit, filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and others, and hasn’t responded to the allegations.

The Associated Press is withholding the mother’s name so as not to indirectly identify the son who said he was touched in appropriately.

Auburn, New York-based Cayuga — which became a focal point for protests this summer after accepting immigrant children separated from their families under a since-canceled Trump administration policy — referred AP inquiries about its operation to the federal Health and Human Services Department.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said the migrant youth program nationwide has “incredibly dedicated people” tending to a lot of children in a difficult situation.

“We are just working hard to make sure they are taken care of and placed responsibly,” he said.

Cayuga Centers, originally founded as an orphanage in 1852, started taking “unaccompanied” migrant children during a surge of arrivals in 2014.

Soon, the program was Cayuga’s biggest. Some 400 children passed through in its first full year, and 1,700 in its third, according to the nonprofit’s tax returns.

Migrant kids brought a torrent of federal money — $121 million so far, government figures show — into an organization that reported a less than $17-million-a-year budget before the program began.

More than 6,000 youngsters have gone on to live with sponsors and await immigration proceedings, according to Cayuga. As of October, the average child stayed at Cayuga for about 60 days, more than twice as long as last year, according to Hayes’ remarks.

Many children may be on track for faster release after the administration on Tuesday backed off a five-month-old requirement that all people in a potential sponsor household be fingerprinted.

Days at Cayuga’s facility include academic and “life skills” classes, sports, therapy and outings to zoos and museums, and the kids head home to Spanish-speaking foster families, according to the organization.

Lawyer Jose Xavier Orochena recalls one child he represented describing a particularly resonant trip this summer: to the Statue of Liberty.

Other New York programs housing migrant children are considerably smaller than Cayuga’s. The next-biggest, Lincoln Hall Boys Haven in suburban Lincolndale, was caring for 183 unaccompanied adolescent boys as of Monday, according to the data obtained by AP.

Abbott House, which specializes in children with medical or psychological needs, had 51 unaccompanied immigrant boys and girls in its shelter in suburban Irvington and 15 in foster care, the data showed.

Its young clients, who range in age from 3 to 17 ½, sleep one or two to a room and spend days doing educational programs, art, yoga, and taking trips to church and a gym, medical director Dr. Luis Rodriguez said.

“All of them have suffered a lot of trauma,” Rodriguez said, but “they’re always motivated to learn something new.”

Another organization, JCCA, is looking after 19 immigrant children, the data show. All are in Bronx foster homes, attending local schools and afterschool programs, spokeswoman Anna Gold said.

They face some restrictions: No hanging out at friends’ houses, for instance. But the children are taken to Broadway shows, movies and the circus “so they can have a life as a kid,” Gold said.

“They’re kids with a lot of hope and a lot of determination,” she said. “None exhibit anything but a strong desire to find a safe place in the United States and build a future here.”

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Associated Press writers Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California, and Garance Burke in San Francisco and AP data journalist Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report.

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Read AP’s national investigation into the government’s shelter program for migrant children here .

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