Governor Cuomo: "It's my legal responsibility to provide for the health and welfare of the children in my state. They are in my state and I intend to fulfill my legal responsibility, even if they're going to abrogate theirs."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding information on the immigrant children being housed in New York to ensure that appropriate services are being provided. Full text of the letter is available here.
AUDIO of the announcement is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Governor Cuomo: Hello, thank you for getting on. I want to talk about the ongoing border situation and the effect on New York State. As you know, HHS has been moving children around the country, finding agencies that can house them. They're coming and going in the middle of the night, they're moving from agency to agency. We have agencies telling us they're getting frenetically contacted by HHS to find out what capacity the agency has. They're being sent children with no information. Literally, no evaluations. And it's happening all across the state. We could have as many as 700 children in our state. When they are being sent to an agency, they're being sent with a federal gag order where the agency cannot tell the state how many children they have or any of the particulars about the children they have. The HHS has also been shuffling children from agency to agency. Which makes it even harder to track.
Legally, the state certifies these foster care agencies. And we regulate them. Constitutionally, the state has the responsibility for the health and welfare of children within our borders, both citizens and non-citizens. It is our Constitutional responsibility. We have the legal responsibility for the health and welfare of children within our borders, whether they are citizens or non-citizens.
I placed a call to the Secretary of HHS this morning saying it's urgent. Saying that the State wants to know where they children are so that we can provide support services. My Commissioner of Health has said, as have many other health professionals in the country, that these children certainly have suffered psychological and physiological trauma. Being taken from their parents, put on busses, but on airplanes, sent all over the country. So, as it's my Constitutional responsibility, I want to provide mental health services, support services, counseling services at the State's expense. But I have the legal right to know where the children are because I have the legal responsibility for the health and welfare of the children. And we're now running into this federal gag order where the agencies can't even tell us where the children are.
I sent a letter to the HHS Secretary. It is absurd, inhumane, and violative of the HHS Secretary's mission, and I believe oath of office to deprive children who need health services from providing those services. And again, the State will do it at the State's expense. I have heard absolutely nothing back from HHS. We're contacting the individual agencies because I do not recognize the federal gag order. Also, the reports from the President's Executive Order is that he reversed his position. He did not reverse his position. The Executive Order was a sham. It was a press release. Reversal suggests you do a 180 degree turn. The Executive Order was a 360 degree turn. He wound up exactly where he was. It was a political pirouette to fool the press. And the political pirouette was partially successful because the headlines say the President reversed himself. He did not reverse himself. The Executive Order came full circle.
The Executive Order says, we will set up family detention centers on the border. Legally, you can't set up family detention centers on the border. That's what started the problem in the first place. The Flores decision and consent decree made it very clear that you cannot detain children for more than a short period of time and the purpose of detainment is only to connect them to family members or appropriate agencies. That's what started the problem in the first place. When they went to the "zero-tolerance" policy April 7 and started arresting and detaining parents, they needed to separate the children and that started the country-wide shuffle of 2,000 or more children all across the country. So the Executive Order saying, we'll set up family detention centers, it's meaningless. You can't set up family detention centers. And if you read the Executive Order, it says, DHS shall do this to the extent permitted by law. By the way, it's not permitted by law, and that's why the Executive Order also said, I'm directing Attorney General Sessions to go renegotiate the Flores case, because they would need to renegotiate the Flores case to allow them to hold children in a detention center. And by the way, the federal government has tried to renegotiate the Flores decision before and they've been wholly unsuccessful. And if you look at the past Flores decisions, they're going to be unsuccessful again. So, the Executive Order accomplished absolutely nothing but an apparent reversal to reduce the political pressure.
So, nothing is going to change. You will have more people showing up at the border, the parents will be held, if the parents are held, the children must be released, and the flow of children, surreptitiously, across the country, will continue. The only way the President could stop it is, he would have to reverse his "zero-tolerance" policy. He would have to stop arresting and detaining. That would be a 180. And that's what he's unwilling to do, because if he reverses his "zero-tolerance" policy, well then he's right back to the Obama policy and that means all the big talk about strength at the border would have been all bluster and he would be back to endorsing the policy of President Obama and he's unwilling to do that. But if you do not reverse the "zero-tolerance" policy April 7, you cannot stop this situation, period.
And the Executive Order was a sham. It fooled many of the press. The headlines that say he reversed himself are inaccurate. He did not reverse himself. The Executive Order said, Attorney General Sessions must renegotiate Flores. I think that's virtually impossible. At best, it would take a long period of time, which means this situation will continue for a long period of time, which means you'll continue to have a flow of children placed ad hoc at these foster care facilities. And my point is, we should at least—it's my state legal responsibility—for the health and welfare of those children, and I want to know where they are. They're not political pawns that you can hide. These are children, parents, have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children and that's the basis of my state lawsuit. And on a humanitarian level, why would you not want to give these children the health and human services assistance that they need?
I'm offering the assistance at state expense. Why would you not be willing to tell me where the children are so I can get them help? It is incredible. The HHS Secretary, Health and Human Services, depriving children who they traumatized of getting health and human services. It's a disgrace. Beyond the camps they want to set up on the Department of Defense Bases. Beyond all the atrocities they've committed - this is the greatest one. They're not sending people to the border to show compassion and sympathy? I'll tell you how to show compassion and sympathy, let's at least get services and support to the children you ripped from the arms of their parents. And to deprive the children of that support and service, takes this injustice to a gross new level. I have yet to hear back from the HHS Secretary. It's my legal responsibility to provide for the health and welfare of the children in my state. They are in my state and I intend to fulfill my legal responsibility, even if they're going to abrogate theirs.