'At that moment I really lost everything': 12-year-old from Bahamas separated from family by US immigration while seeking shelter

Clark Mindock
REUTERS

A 12-year-old Bahamian girl was separated from her family by American immigration officials after she fled to the US from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Dorian in her homeland.

Kaytora Paul was taken away from her godmother after she landed in West Palm Beach, in south Florida.

Having originally set off from the battered Abaco Island, she had flown in from Bahamian capital Nassau. The pair were transferred then by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to Miami International Airport

Kaytora’s mother, Katty Paul, told The Miami Herald that they had been separated because the godmother was not biologically related to her daughter.

She is now being held at the His House Children’s Home in Miami Gardens, with the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) in charge of her custody.


That facility is a non-profit, faith-based organisation that is “dedicated to restoring the lives of children”, and a provider of “residential and foster care services,” according to its website.

Confirming the details to Kaytora’s case to The Independent, a CBP spokesperson said in an email that she arrived “with an adult that had no identifiable familial relationship” on 9 September.

They added: “CBP made multiple attempts to contact family members however was unsuccessful, resulting in the need to transfer the child to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) custody."

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They said "this established CBP protocol is meant to protect vulnerable children from exploitation and human smuggling and is especially important during uncertainties created by natural disasters and emergencies. CBP has been in contact with the child's mother and is working through HHS to verify legitimate caretakers and reunite them.”

Ms Paul, who flew to the US after her daughter was taken, said it had compounded the tragedy she endured when the hurricane smashed into their home in the Bahamas.

“We were in our house when the roof collapsed," she told the Herald. "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?

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She added: “I thought losing my house was devastating. Or having to relocate to a different island or a country was devastating. But when I found out they got her, my baby, I mean, there are no words. It was at that moment that I really lost everything.”

The process to get her child back could take months.

Ms Paul said she had been told that she can apply to be her daughter’s sponsor with HHS, but that she would need to complete an application process that includes providing government identification, birth certificates, and other information.

However, she can only stay in the US until 26 September.

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