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.
Season of Justice
Faith communities are launching a Season of Justice beginning in August. Faith leaders will lift the moral imagination of their communities and create spaces within their houses of worship that inform and enliven the consciences of their communities to the crisis in the lives of affected children and families in New York City. The goal is to generate activism in support of the SCAR Act and hold to account the morally corrupt immigration policies that have led to the forcible separation of children.
And what unites all Americans of conscience is the moral premise of the Declaration of Independence: that we hold as self-evident the truth that all human beings are created equal – endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Holy One of Infinite Names who surrounds us with your mercy, resides in our hearts, and fills us with your living, loving Spirit, we ask You to move us now as you have moved Your people through the ages - To not falter and be of faint heart but to go from strength to strength until justice is done.
As echoed in humanity’s sacred traditions and in the voices of our ancestors, and as members of one human family – motivated by the love that connects us all to our brothers and sisters in every land we pledge today:
to cry out like a trumpet blast and declare to our nation its transgressions
to welcome our neighbor when we see them and not turn our back on our own
to be instruments of healing and repairers of the brokenness that has been unleashed on our families, our communities, and our nation
May the power that links us all, one to another and to all humanity through history, inspire and strengthen us to stand together with children and parents who have been torn apart in our names -- and may we not rest until their families are restored to dignity, safety and security. May we be repairers of the breach in these broken and troubled times.