The Interfaith Center of New York, The New Sanctuary Coalition, Union Theological Seminary, The Micah Faith Table, NYS Council of Churches and our faith partners statewide are calling on all communities of faith and moral conscience to join us in support of the Separation of Children Accountability Response Act.
As countless separated families continue to await answers and reunification, the Separation of Children Accountability Response Act will be introduced in the State Assembly by Assembly member Harvey Epstein and in the Senate by Senator Brian Benjamin. This bill will require greater transparency from New York state foster care organizations that hold separated and unaccompanied children and receive Federal funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement/HHS for this work.
The SCAR Act asks that basic information about separated and unaccompanied children in care of these agencies be reported to the state, as well as to the federal government. Given the current administration's secrecy and deceit on its family separation policy and its abuse of federal non-disclosure agreements with contractors in order to hide its inhumane policies, the SCAR Act seeks transparency through state accountability. Finally, the SCAR Act is envisioned as a replicable model for other states around the country that seek to be a check on the cruel and xenophobic immigration policies of the Trump administration.
Introduction: Our Moral Imperative
Although the Trump Administration ended its policy of separating families apprehended at the southern border on June 20th, by then, thousands of children had been taken from their parents and sent to holding facilities around the country – often thousands of miles from where their parents were detained - including at least 300 in NYC.
State Senator Brian A. Benjamin and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein have responded by introducing the SCAR Act –“Separation of Children Accountability Response Act”– a bill that calls for provision of essential information about the children being held, so that concerned advocates and policy makers will have the information they need to respond in ways that meet the needs of the children and their parents well-being.
What unites faith communities across the religious spectrum– and others dedicated to the battle – is the shared belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings, and the commitment to welcome our neighbor and to embrace the Golden Rule that we must treat others only as we ourselves wish to be treated – commitments that are enshrined in all religious traditions.
What is SCAR?
The crisis of forcibly separated children at the border has galvanized moral leadership in New York to draft and introduce the “Separation of Children Accountability Response Act” (SCAR). The SCAR Act requires state-contracted facilities like the Cayuga Center in Harlem to provide the public with a reoccurring report every 15 days that outlines the number of children held within its facilities.
The Trump administration uses secrecy and confusion to avoid accountability for their immoral acts, which is why New York State must exercise its regulatory authority to inform the public of the number of forcibly separated children within state-contracted facilities.
Why do we need SCAR?
The Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy targeting immigrants seeking asylum and a better life has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents by the federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Many of these children have been in the custody of non-profit protective and orphanage institutions in New York State.
Despite a federal court order to return these children to their parents, there is no public record of the number of such children separated from their parents, their status, or whether they have been returned. The SCAR Act forces such institutions to report this information to the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OFCS).
What does SCAR do?
SCAR requires reporting every fifteen days of the following data by a child welfare agency with custody of minors separated from parents to the Commissioner of the NY State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). Provisions include:
- The number of unaccompanied minors newly accepted into the authorized agency’s care under a contract, grant, or other agreement with the federal government
- The number of unaccompanied minors released from the authorized agency’s care under a contract, grant, or other agreement with the federal government
- the number of unaccompanied minors currently under the authorized agency’s care under a contract, grant, or other agreement with the federal government at the time of the report
- the median and mean number of days unaccompanied minors have spent in the care of the authorized agency under a contract, grant, or other agreement with the federal government
- the number of unaccompanied minors in the authorized agency’s care who were forcibly removed from the custody of their parents
- the number of unaccompanied minors previously forcibly removed from the custody of their parents and placed in the authorized agency’s care that have been restored to the custody of their parents
- the number of unaccompanied children placed into particular types of care or custody including, but not limited to, transitional foster care, long-term foster care, secure care or staff-secure care; and any other information the commissioner deems necessary.
- Reports to the commissioner shall not reveal identifying information about specific cases or individuals
- The data collected by the Commissioner of the Office of Family and Children’s Services shall be made public in real-time and to government officials upon request.