The New Kids: Long Island outpacing major cities in resettlement of unaccompanied minors

Posted: Updated: Jan 06, 2020 8:00 AM -05:00

The government classifies them as "unaccompanied minors." They’re children from places like El Salvador and Honduras who entered the U.S. without documentation, and many of them are settling on Long Island.

President Donald Trump's public posture on the issue of undocumented immigration has not wavered. But despite his hardline stance, the steady stream of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. without documentation has continued.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 1,479 unaccompanied minors settled in Suffolk County in the 2019 fiscal year – the seventh highest total of any county in the country. Nassau welcomed 1,116 unaccompanied minors – making it ninth in the nation.

In total, the U.S. government placed 2,595 unaccompanied minors with sponsors on Long Island last fiscal year – just 96 less than in President Barack Obama's final fiscal year in office.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) says U.S. policy on unaccompanied minors hasn't changed much over the years, despite President Trump's tough talk and the controversial separation of migrant families at the border earlier in the Trump administration.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services, overwhelmed by the task of housing thousands of unaccompanied children, actually eased the vetting process of potential sponsors – paving the way for children to be placed in homes across the U.S. and on Long Island more quickly.

“The main reason is the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they place the kids with families that ask for them, that volunteer for them,” says Rep. King.

 

As Suffolk and Nassau outpace several border counties and major cities, why is Long Island such a draw?

Patrick Young, the downstate advocacy director of the New York Immigration Coalition, says unaccompanied minors are “coming specifically because this is the fifth largest Central American community in the United States.”

Young says the president's hardline rhetoric has done little to stem the flow of young people traveling into the U.S. because the conditions in their homelands are far worse than anything the president can write in a tweet or say at a rally.

“The rhetoric actually swelled the number of people arriving because if someone is in trouble, and they hear that the border may close soon, they're going to try to move north quicker,” says Young.

 

Young says in the absence of bipartisan immigration reform or improving conditions in Central America, the influx will only continue regardless of what the president says.

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