Brooklyn girl attempting to get 17-year-old pal out of US federal custody after escaping Ukraine
NEW YORK — The Biden administration’s commitment to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees has many eager to cross the border out of their war-torn country.
But a Brooklyn resident who tried to bring a friend here last month has been struggling to get her out of federal custody. She shared her story with CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis.
“It’s been a pretty horrific experience,” Molly Surazhsky said.
For two weeks, Surazhsky, 29, has desperately been trying to reunite with her family friend, Yelyzaveta Krasulia, who she calls Liza.
“It was at the border on March 30th that Liza got detained,” Surazhsky said.
It started with Surazhsky and her mother, both US citizens, went to Poland to visit her aunt who fled Ukraine.
“We very quickly realized there’s no open pathway to the US because my aunt doesn’t have a valid passport, as many refugees fleeing a war-torn country might not have,” Surazhsky said.
In Poland, they connected with her mom’s close friend, Natalia, who escaped with Liza, her 17-year-old daughter.
“Natalia askes us if we would be willing to take her daughter to the US In exchange, she’ll help take care of my aunt in Poland,” Surazhsky said.
At an attorney’s advice, she gave Surazhsky a notarized letter granting permission to care for Liza. They left Poland and traveled to the US border through Mexico.
Surazhsky said Customs and Border Protection agents didn’t accept the letter. Instead, Liza was detained and later called them in tears.
“She’s explaining that she’s being held like a prisoner, as opposed to a refugee of war,” Surazhsky said.
A few days later, Liza was taken to a facility for unoccupied children in New York City. But Surazhsky said she can’t visit and waits for arranged phone calls.
“I made a promise to her mother that I would take care of her daughter. So I feel responsible for this child,” Surazhsky said.
She’s hoping to be reunited with her friend soon. In the meantime, she’s continuing to bring attention to the roadblocks these war refugees are running into.
“Our immigration system is not … designed to respond to emergencies like this one,” said Stephanie Cordero, director of Brooklyn Legal Services’ immigration unit.
According to Cordero, while the Biden administration announced plans to welcome refugees, the plans are unclear.
“The infrastructure has also not been put in place to process all the people that it needs to process now, and the cap hasn’t been increased significantly and the processing has not been speeded up,” Cordero said.
As for Liza’s case, or any unaccompanied minor’s, Cordero said it’s standard protocol to be placed in a facility while determining next steps.
Surazhsky just wants the government to act on its promises.
“They say we stand with Ukraine, back what you say with action,” Surazhsky said.
CBS2 reached out to Customs and Border Protection, but the agency directed us to the Department of Health and Human Services. A spokesperson for HHS sent us the following statement:
HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is legally required to provide for the care of all unaccompanied children (UC) referred to ORR until they are appropriately and safely released to a vetted sponsor. Just like with any other unaccompanied child in our care, it is our legal responsibility to provide safe, appropriate care to unaccompanied migrant children from Ukraine during the time they are in our care.
We don’t make immigration determinations at HHS and it’s not for us to determine whether a child will stay or be returned. Our job is to provide them with care and protection while they’re in our temporary custody. Due to privacy and safety reasons, ORR cannot share information on the status of children who may be in our care.
We’re told children, while in custody, have access to legal, medical and translation services and can connect with family at least twice a week.
Surazhsky is hoping Liza will be released this week. She’s also working to get her aunt here, too.
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