MIAMI (AP) — A Bahamian girl who evacuated with her godmother from Hurricane Dorian’s devastation was reunited with her family after she spent days in government custody for arriving in Florida without a parent, U.S. immigration officials said Friday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed a report from The Miami Herald, saying 12-year-old Katyora Paul was released late Thursday from a Miami shelter to her mother, who arrived in Miami earlier this week.
The newspaper quoted Katyora’s mother, Katty Paul, as saying the girl flew Sunday to West Palm Beach from the Bahamian capital of Nassau with her godmother after the family’s home in Abaco Island flooded and the roof collapsed. She said officials separated them and refused to turn the girl over to a biological aunt.
Katyora spent four days at the shelter His House, which more commonly houses children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents.
Earlier this week, officials said they made “multiple attempts” to contact her family. Under federal anti-trafficking laws, children entering the U.S. without a parent or legal guardian are processed as “unaccompanied,” and placed in custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The protocol “is especially important during uncertainties created by natural disasters and emergencies,” a statement earlier this week said.
Immigration officials said the child was processed as an unaccompanied minor because she arrived “with an adult that had no identifiable familial relationship.” It was unclear what documents, if any, the godmother may have presented to officials.
The Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. HHS typically requires documentation from parents or other relatives before it will release unaccompanied children. The Miami Herald said government officials told the newspaper that the agency expedited the release of the child after the case sparked public outrage.