A 12-year-old Bahamian girl who survived Hurricane Dorian only to be separated from her godmother and placed into immigrant detention in Florida has been reunited with her family.
Kaytora Paul’s mother and aunt picked her up Thursday evening at His House, the Miami Gardens shelter for unaccompanied minors where she had spent the past four days, the Miami Herald reported.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials told the Herald that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had responded to public backlash once word of Kaytora’s case spread.
Outrage was especially acute because Katty Paul, the girl’s mother, had come to the U.S. to collect her but been told that it would take weeks or months to get her back — and then given a Sept. 26 deadline to leave the country.
HHS said the U.S. government “was unaware the girl was a hurricane survivor” when she was taken, the Miami Herald said.
Health and Human Services had initially defended the move.
“By law HHS is required to provide care for UAC who are referred by another federal agency,” it told the Daily News via email on Wednesday, referring to unaccompanied minors. “Once in our care we work to put them in immediate contact with parents or family members so they may be united with a suitable sponsor as soon as possible.”
CBP officials had said they tried to contact biological family members and couldn’t find them, so were legally required to hand Kaytora over to HHS. At the same time, the agency had refused to grant custody to the girl’s biological aunt, who had come to pick her up at the airport.
“CBP made multiple attempts to contact family members, however was unsuccessful,” a spokesperson told the Daily News Wednesday.
Hurricane Dorian ravaged the northern Bahamas, making communication nearly impossible. CBP said they had tried to reach Kaytora’s relatives in the U.S. but been unable to, especially given the hour, 2 a.m.
“For children traveling to the U.S., what we must do is make sure they’re in the custody of either their parents or an authorized legal guardian when they arrive,” CBP’s director of field operations for Miami and Tampa, Diane Sabatino, told CNN. “We cannot afford to put a child into a situation — though in this circumstance probably very well-intended, and we understand that — but we cannot take the chance that a child can potentially end up in the custody of someone who isn’t so well-intended.”