The U.S. continues to messily address the thousands of people fleeing the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Along with turning evacuees away from the U.S. and the cold actions of Donald Trump, families are also struggling to reconnect.
One disturbing case involves a 12-year-old Bahamian girl named Kaytora Paul. According to the Miami Harold, Paul fled the destruction of Hurricane Dorian by coming to the U.S. with her godmother. However, when they arrived in Florida, U.S. Customs and Border Protection transferred them to the Miami International Airport and eventually, they separated the two because the godmother wasn’t the kid’s biological parent.
Officials also wouldn’t let the girl stay with her biological aunt, who came to pick her up at the airport. Instead, Kaytora was sent to His House Children’s Home in Miami Gardens under the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Usually “unaccompanied minors” under age 13 are sent to His House along with Boystown, another South Florida tender-age center. Anyone ages 13 to 17 have been sent to the Homestead detention center.
In a statement regarding to Kaytora, CBP said, “CBP made multiple attempts to contact family members however was unsuccessful—resulting in the need to transfer the child to HHS custody. CBP exercises due diligence to guard against child exploitation and human smuggling during uncertainties created by natural disasters and emergencies.”
Despite the CBP’s self described safety measures, the long process to reconnect kids with their families has inflicted more trauma on groups that are already suffering.
Kaytora’s mother, Katty Paul, told the Miami Harold, “I thought losing my house was devastating. Or having to relocate to a different island or country was devastating. But when I found out that they got her, my baby, I mean, there are no words. It was at that moment that I really lost everything.”
Paul has a family of six including her husband, daughter and three other children ages 3, 10 and 19. She explained her hurricane experience saying, “We were in our house when the roof collapsed. The floodwaters kept rising. We spent six days in our Dodge sleeping with the windshield broken, getting wet in the rain. To go through that harrowing experience with your children, and then for one to be taken away from you?”
Paul said when rescuers came for her family there wasn’t enough space: “At that point you have to make a decision. I sent my 12-year-old with her godmother, while I stayed with our two youngest and my husband stayed with our adult son.”
Paul is also in Miami, but she still can’t pick up her child because of a long process. She would have to apply to be her daughter’s sponsor with HHS. Then, to get custody of her daughter, she would have to obtain documentation that would prove she’s her mother, such as a birth certificate, government I.D. and a proof of address. Historically, the process can last for weeks or even months. To make things worse, Paul said that U.S. officials told her that she can only reside in the U.S. until September 26.
“I don’t even want to think about what that will look like — if I have to leave here before being able to claim my own daughter,” Paul said. “You should hear her voice. She’s out of it. Crying, depressed. She wants her family but we can’t do anything.”