Cristian is one of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed the southwest border in recent months, in a wave that has overwhelmed immigration officials and prompted the Obama administration to declare a humanitarian crisis and open three emergency shelters, on military bases in California, Oklahoma and Texas.
But while the government’s response has been largely focused on the southwest, the surge of child migrants is quickly becoming a crisis around the country. The fallout is being felt most acutely in places with large immigrant populations, like New York, where newly arrived children and their relatives are flooding community groups. They seek help fighting deportation orders, getting health care, dealing with the psychological traumas of migration, managing the challenges of family reunification and enrolling in school.
“It’s almost like a refugee crisis,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group.
Federal officials will not reveal how many children they are holding, how many are being released or where they are being sent. But in the New York region, immigrant advocacy organizations say they have seen a stunning rise in the number of unaccompanied minors seeking help in the past several months.
“All of a sudden it went from a trickle to more like a river,” said Anne Pilsbury, director of Central American Legal Assistance in Brooklyn.