An Influx of Central American Migrant Youth Raises Budgetary Concerns for New York State Funded Organizations

Originally published on September 16, 2014

An increasing number of migrant youth from Central America enter the United States each year in search of their parents, relatives, and a safer living environment. Fleeing from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, many of these migrant children temporarily or permanently reside in New York State, where they receive federally funded legal aid and special service care.

Federally-funded state agencies in New York provide migrant youths with special-care services including health, education, and legal aid. However, these organizations struggle to receive proper funding from the government to give each migrant child sufficient educational, legal, and health services.

Approximately 70,000 migrant youths will enter the U.S. during the 2014 fiscal year and 90,000 will face detainment and deportation, according to a February report conducted by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.

“It is at its core a serious child protection issue,” says Meghan McKenna, Communications & Advocacy Director at KIND, “It is nearly impossible for migrant children to represent themselves in court proceedings.”

In many cases, these migrant youths facing detainment and deportation will have to endure court proceedings lasting up to four years, with the ultimate fear of returning to their home countries or living as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S..

“What these children need is a lawyer. They need lawyers first because it is very hard for them to address the traumas that they have lived through,” says Eve Stotland, Director of Legal Services at The Door, “First things first, if we don’t get these children lawyers, they will be forced to their countries that they have fled and second is to go underground and live their lives in hiding.”

With the recent influx of migrant children to New York State from Central America, some organizations have to turn away children and send them to outside, private organizations, due to a lack of funds and personnel.

This year, the legal services community specializing in migrant youth cases, such as The Door and Empire Justice Center in New York City, say they are at “full-capacity.”

“We want to serve children, none of us went into this to turn them away. But we are tapped out. And we have to send these children to private services. But many of these private services are tapped out as well,” says Stotland, “The federal government has failed to provide the children with lawyers and New York State can fill that gap by providing resources for council.”

Special care organizations, such as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of New York and The Children’s Village of New York City, who provide refugee for undocumented migrant youth and advocate for their protection within the legal system, believe the issue extends beyond the legal cases of these children.

“We need to look at the gaps and here is where New York State comes into play. Nobody yet has placed sufficient emphasis on the non-legal services on kids and their family’s needs. They have potential to become our future and nobody has placed emphasis on investing their future,” says Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of New York.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and Jeremy Kohomban testify before the New York State Assembly at a migrant youth hearing on September 16, 2014.
Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and Jeremy Kohomban testify before the New York State Assembly at a migrant youth hearing on September 16, 2014.

In order to assure protection and humanitarian aid to migrant youth, Sullivan says the New York State Assembly must allocate the proper funds and services on their agenda.

“By investing about $24 million dollars a year in these kids, we can assure their future and the future of New York State…This is a situation which cries out to us” says Sullivan.

Currently, The Children’s Village houses 57 migrant children in their 200 bed shelter. President & CEO Jeremy Kohomban explains that his organization provides shelter and services to children from over 41 countries, before they are released to their custodial families or put in federally funded, special foster care.

“This journey is not an easy journey and it is not a journey that you would want for your children. These children come here [illegally] and are put in the care of scrupulous people, gangsters oftentimes. So it is our job to help these children and provide them with a team of experts who review homes and families so that these children can live in a safe, family setting,” says Kohomban.

On Tuesday, September 16, the New York State Assembly Committee on Social Services and Standing Committee on Children and Families Task Force on New Americans held a public hearing with State agencies to address the influx of migrant youth from Central American countries and to examine the state’s role in caring for youth who enter the United States illegally through the southwestern border.

“Here in New York City, we are fully committed to supporting these children and their families,” said Nisha Argarwal, Commissioner to the Mayor’s Officer of Immigrant Affairs in New York City.

Unfortunately, all of the invited city, state, and federal agencies declines to attend the hearing, according to Assembly Member Marcus Crespo.