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Organizations in the state of New York receive more federal funding for housing unaccompanied migrants than those in any state besides Texas, according to a CNBC review of government procurement documents.
Shelters including The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry and The Cayuga Home for Children, a nonprofit with locations around New York, have received $400 million in the last five fiscal years to house and provide services for minors who arrive in the United States without guardians, the documents show.
The funding allocated to New York shelters by the Department of Health and Human Services is more than organizations in the next three states — Illinois, Virginia and Maryland — received combined.
New York’s central role in what the government calls the unaccompanied alien children program has grown tense in recent days as a result of President Donald Trump‘s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
While many of the shelters signed up to house children who arrived in the country unaccompanied, under the new policy, shelters are being called on to house hundreds of children who arrived with their parents and were then separated from them.
Housing migrants separated under Trump’s zero tolerance policy presents an awkward moment for New Yorkers, who voted for Trump’s political rival Hillary Clinton by a margin of 23 percentage points in 2016.
In the time since, the state has served as a chief antagonist for a number of Trump’s policies, and just last week, the state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the president and his family for violating federal and state charities law.
Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, said as many as 350 young migrants had been processed by one facility in particular, Cayuga, in East Harlem. Speaking outside the facility on Wednesday, a day after a local television station captured video of five girls believed to be migrants entering the facility in the dead of night, de Blasio said that he was “shocked at what we think is something happening far away.”
“Well, I have to tell you, I am further shocked to find out today how much this policy has come home to New York City,” he said.
Cayuga has received $93 million in government contracts since 2014, according to the government documents reviewed by CNBC.
The state of New York will soon sue the federal government over Trump’s immigration policy, Cuomo announced this week. Cuomo said an executive order Trump signed Wednesday, which the president claimed would allow families to stay together, is “no solution at all.”
The zero tolerance policy has focused the nation’s attention on Texas, where facilities such as “Casa Padre,” a former Walmart in Brownsville, house thousands of young migrants in conditions described as prison-like, with limited time outdoors, restricted access to phone calls and wire enclosures that sometimes hold dozens of people.
The stark images have created tension for those who run facilities in New York, some of whom are now housing young children separated from their families under a policy they oppose and have sought to end.
“The current policy is just mean-spirited, counterproductive, it’s not in the best interest of the kids, the parents, it’s not in the best interest of the country,” said Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, which has housed children separated from their parents under the new policy.
Catholic Charities has received about $23 million from the federal government in the past five years, according to government records. The nonprofit provides housing and other services such as legal guidance and mental health referrals for those who show up in the United States without family.
“To create unaccompanied minors when there are parents makes no sense at all,” Sullivan said.
Jeremy Kohomban, who runs The Children’s Village, told The Associated Press that the separation policy is “frustrating and heartbreaking.”
“This kind of forced separation has permanent damage,” he said, according to an article published Thursday. “Psychological, fear, anxiety. The fear of the unknown. If this could happen to me, what else could happen to me?”
A quarter of the funding that went to New York to support housing young migrants was allocated to The Children’s Village, which has received contracts totaling more than $110 million since 2014, according to the records reviewed by CNBC.
The Children’s Village, along with most of the other facilities contacted by CNBC, did not respond to a request for comment, with some referring CNBC to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency that places children in New York’s shelters. That agency, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has not responded to CNBC’s inquiries. HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Experts told CNBC that the facilities in New York are widely regarded as safe, with few major incidents. The facilities must pass state inspections in order to house children.
Immigration activists and experts say the immigrants are brought thousands of miles to New York because of its vast capacity. Many facilities in New York agreed to house young migrants starting in 2014, a year when almost 70,000 unaccompanied children entered the United States illegally.
“New York’s immigrant population is incredibly diverse and includes many from the Central American countries where the children come from,” said Nancy Foner, who edited a book, “One Out of Three,” about the history of immigration in New York.
“If there is a desire to find the children’s relatives who can assume care for them then it makes sense to place them in a city with large numbers of immigrants from Honduras, for example, and near to Long Island communities with large numbers of Salvadorans,” Foner said.
The facilities themselves are largely reluctant to talk to the press, citing tight disclosure rules from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Those who agreed to speak with CNBC said the children in their care are generally held only briefly while family members or other potential guardians are located.
Oftentimes, those family members are living in New York, but not always. In some cases, children are placed in New York for no clear reason, according to Walter Joseph. He runs The Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie, which housed young migrants in 2014 during the peak in unaccompanied arrivals.
“We couldn’t figure out what the logic was, we would get a kid from Texas, and then they would go to California,” Joseph said.
There is a certain irony to New York’s centrality to the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, given the state’s liberal politics and its reputation for defying the White House’s restrictive immigration rules.
John F. Kennedy International Airport became a symbol of that defiance early last year, when hundreds New Yorkers gathered there to protest the detention of two refugees from Iraq following the first iteration of Trump’s travel ban.
“We’ve been setting ourselves up to respond to a situation like this,” said Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition.
In the wake of the JFK protests, Mackler established the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative, a coalition of about 70 nonprofit groups that Mackler refers to as “the lawyer army.”
“New Yorkers are really proud of that symbol in our harbor,” Mackler said, referring to the Statue of Liberty. “We are very proud of the values that we stand for, including being one of the leading states in terms of immigrant rights.”