The Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policy on undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. has led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border since May, more than 70 of whom have landed in New York, Cuomo said in an announcement Tuesday.
The governor ordered New York’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the Department of Health and the Office of Children and Family Services to file suit against the federal government’s family separation practices, he said.
"The Trump Administration's policy to tear apart families is a moral failing and a human tragedy," Cuomo said. "We will not tolerate the Constitutional rights of children and their parents being violated by our federal government. New York will act and file suit to end this callous and deliberate attack on immigrant communities, and end this heartless policy once and for all."
Cuomo said the family separation policy violates immigrant parents’ rights under the U.S. Constitution to familial integrity, and to decide to exercise their own parental rights. The policy is also a violation of the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which set national standards for the detention, release and treatment of all children in immigration detention, Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s call for a lawsuit joins a chorus of condemnation over the policy being enforced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in which all unauthorized border-crossers would be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution.
Sessions said in his policy announcement in May that anyone who smuggles noncitizens across the border, including their own children, would be separated from their family and prosecuted. The result has been the separation of roughly 2,000 children over a recent six-week period.
The policy has received heavy backlash from lawmakers and political leaders on both sides of the aisle, including former first ladies Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Rosalynn Carter and Laura Bush, who penned an op-ed in The Washington Post condemning the new policy. Videos released by the government Monday show children lying on concrete floors, wrapped in emergency blankets in caged areas inside a warehouse.
Meanwhile, in an open letter to Sessions published on the website Medium on Monday, 81 former U.S. attorneys, including Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York, called the zero tolerance policy “dangerous, expensive and inconsistent with the values of the institution in which we served,” while also pointing out that federal law does not require the separation of families at the border, as the Trump administration has claimed.
Twenty-one state attorneys general led by New Mexico's Hector Balderas chimed in Tuesday with their own letter chiding Sessions and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for putting children in danger “for the sake of a political agenda.” The deliberate separation of children and their parents is not only cruel and dangerous, but also a violation of international, federal and state laws that hold that a child’s best interest is in remaining with their parents, the state AGs argued.
A California couple who saw some of the images being published in the media of small children crying as they were separated from their parents by federal agents started a fundraiser on Facebook Inc.’s social media platform that raised more than $6 million in less than four days as the images — and outrage — went viral, according to the fundraiser’s page on that site.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers scrambled to respond to the issue, with Trump himself telling Republican representatives at a meeting Tuesday evening that he would support immigration reform legislation. Senators started to ramp up their efforts to end the White House’s family separation policy in the face of partisan bickering.
Cuomo also issued an open letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday as the executive branch’s second-highest leader arrived in the Empire State for a visit. Cuomo suggested that, while Pence visits New York, he should recall the words mounted on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty.
Those words are an Emma Lazarus poem: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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