State To Sue Over Child Immigration Policy

Pictured is a candlelight vigil held Tuesday evening at Veterans Memorial Park in Jamestown. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state of New York plans to file a lawsuit against the federal government for enacting a zero-tolerance policy along the southern border that separates children from their families and places the youth in facilities intended to detain them while their parents are prosecuted.

“I believe personally that the act is inhumane, extortive and un-American,” Cuomo told reporters during a conference call Tuesday.

The intent to sue is grounded in three theories that the policy: is in violation of constitutional rights of parents, including non-citizens, for the care and custody of their children; is in violation of the 1997 Flores Settlement that emphasizes keeping family units together; and is outrageous government conduct.

Cuomo believes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has become a “political apparatus” for the Trump Administration. He also said that these separated children are being used as bargaining chips for the administration to get what they want.

“The separation between police powers and political wishes is sacrosanct,” Cuomo said.

P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

The governor suggested that holding approximately 2,000 children away from their families is not just immoral but also illegal. Cuomo was sure to highlight the perceived irony of the situation, noting how the zero-tolerance border policy seems to betray the traditional family values Republicans flaunt.

About 10 facilities in New York are included among the institutions that house separated children. Since these are private facilities contracted by the federal government, the state of New York gets the same answer when trying to contact them about their policies: that under federal regulations, the facilities cannot discuss the detained children to any extent.

Approximately 70 children are held in New York. Cuomo takes issue with how the federal government seems to be detaining these children under the Unaccompanied Alien Children program.

“These are children that were separated from their parents,” said Cuomo, who stressed that the children in question were never unaccompanied.

Cuomo also mentioned that the process of providing state mental health aid and support services to the children is deterred by federal services that would inhibit the offering of such services for weeks, which “just adds further insult to further injury,” Cuomo said.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The state plans to sue through a multi-agency coalition, including the Department of Health, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

In their case, New York intends to argue that fundamental rights for parents and children that are established in the federal and state constitutions and case law apply and have been violated.

New York State is planning on filing a suit within the next two weeks.

Congressman Tom Reed weighed in on the situation, describing the separation of children from their families as a “heart-wrenching issue.”

“These kids are unfortunate bystanders to a long-standing epidemic of weak border security and outdated laws. Congress must act in this week’s immigration reform bill to change the law so that children are not ripped from their parents’ arms,” Reed said.

Congressional candidate for the 23rd district of New York, Max Della Pia, expressed his disgust for the practices of the current administration on border issues.

“Words cannot fully capture the stunning cruelty of the Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they cross the border,” Della Pia said. “As a nation, we can disagree about the best policy to address the issue of immigration, but the basic humanity with which we treat those who arrive at our border cannot be up for debate.”

Della Pia suggested that no American, in good conscience, should consider current practices at the border an acceptable national policy. The Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives also said this policy coming from President Donald Trump should be no surprise since “he has used callous rhetoric to dehumanize immigrants while promoting cruel and counterproductive policies,” Della Pia said.

The action against the “separation of families” policy comes after Cuomo issued an open letter against Vice President Mike Pence condemning the policy and asked for an investigation into the conduct of ICE agents. Cuomo requested the Department of Homeland Security investigate the treatment of immigrant families at the border Sunday and declared New York State would not deploy the National Guard to the border.

Locally, candles were lit Tuesday within Veterans Memorial Park in Jamestown to protest the current border policy impacting immigrant families. The group, Chautauqua Progressive Action, organized the candlelight vigil.

“This issue has upset a lot of people and they have expressed an interest in doing something,” said Susan Meara of the Chautauqua Progressive Action group.

Meara said her organization simply gave people a “place and a date.”

Over 60 individuals attended the impromptu protest against the current situation on the southern border.

“I think what people need to do is come together and show their support and concern for the kids that are being separated from their families. It’s breaking everyone’s heart.”

She interpreted the controversial policy as a tool to receive funding for the highly publicized border wall proposal by President Donald Trump. She compared the situation to a game of chicken and wondered which side would give in first.

While Meara was concerned over the current dilemma, she remained hopeful that policy would be changed.

“I hope so,” she said. “There is so much public outrage (regarding) what’s happening to these kids right that I hope something happens.”

Jordan W. Patterson contributed to this story.

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