Bill would require tracking of displaced immigrant children in New York state

Austin Fearnley

April 09, 2019

Originally published in Legislative Gazette on April 09, 2019.

Following contradictory news reports that President Donald Trump might reinstate a policy that separates children from their immigrant parents at the southern U.S. border, two dozen state lawmakers are pushing back with a bill to help keep track of displaced children in New York.

Legislative Gazette photo by Austin Fearnley Senator Brian Benjamin, at podium, is joined by Assemblyman Harvey Epstein in support of the SCAR Act.

Assemblyman Harvey Epstein and Sen. Brian Benjamin, the bill sponsors, were joined by nearly two dozen lawmakers and other advocates to demand passage of the Separation of Children Accountability Response, or SCAR, Act.

All of the legislators spoke about the need for more accountability for the children’s whereabouts and safety.

The bill (S.222-a/A.1436-a) is sponsored by Epstein and is co-sponsored by 44 other Assembly members. In the Senate, the bill is carried by Benjamin and is co-sponsored by 36 other senators.

The goal of the bill is to improve the reporting status of children who are separated from their parents and placed in the care of child-welfare organizations in New York state. These child protective agencies would be required under the law to provide the state Office of Children and Family Services with accurate reports on the number of children that were brought to New York, how many are still in the state, what languages they speak, and if have they been reunited with their parents.

The President’s Zero Tolerance policy for illegal immigration has resulted in a large but indeterminate number of alien children being
separated from their parents by the federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the bill states. Many of these children are in the custody of nonprofit children’s protective and orphanage placement agencies in New York state.

Despite a federal court order to return the alien children to their parents, there is no public or transparent record of the number of such children separated from their parents, their status, or whether they have been returned. This bill forces such entities to report to the Office of Children and Family Services to report such information, and if they do not, to face criminal penalties and loss of license.

A majority of the people who spoke during the press conference outside the Senate chamber on Tuesday stated the controversial policy being considered by Trump is “unconscionable” and inhumane to these families.

Benjamin, Epstein and the other lawmakers say they want to make New York state a “beacon of hope” in dealing with the presidential administrations push for these separations.

“These are children who have been scarred by this administration. They need mental health services. They need regular health services and we can’t help them if we don’t know,” Epstein said. “All we are saying is arm us with information, arm our state with information. Work with our foster agency across our state who have federal contracts and let’s collaborate together to ensure they these children who come into our state are protected, are thought about, and are supported.”

The bill currently resides in the Children and Families Committees in both the Senate and Assembly.