A former employee at the Cayuga Centers facility in East Harlem has leaked footage of herself comforting a tearful migrant girl longing for her mother.
The child — taken from her mother in April — weeps into her arm as an unidentified staffer can be heard coaxing out of her what happened to her family at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Jessica, don’t cry,” the woman says in Spanish, according to the video.
The heartbreaking clip aired Monday night on MSNBC's “The Rachel Maddow Show” and is one of the first candid looks from inside a federally-funded charity tasked with caring for migrant children, some of whom were taken from their families while crossing the border.
More footage, while not showing any indication of mistreatment, show kids huddled in classrooms and eating meals together.
Faces of the children were obscured when it aired on the cable network.
The former employee recorded the video last week and shared it with lawyer Michael Avenatti, who is also representing adult actress Stormy Daniels in a separate scandal plaguing the Trump administration.
Avenatti, who is representing the woman, boasted Sunday night that he succeeded in gaining access to a facility for migrant children and shared a photo of little Jessica to his Twitter account, her face completely visible.
"This is what Mr. Trump and Mr. (Stephen) Miller's immigration policy really looks like," Avenatti tweeted.
According to the video's translation, the girl said she wanted to talk to her mother, who she believed was in Virginia. She hadn’t heard from her in more than a week.
The child came to the U.S. with another sibling, believed to be a sister.
Audio recorded by the same employee appears to depict a member of the East Harlem staff warning the young children to not talk to journalists, in case it harms their chances of being reunited with their families.
“If for whatever reason you tell a reporter – you know what’s going to happen to your case?” a woman can be heard saying, according to a translation. “It is going to be on the news – and then one doesn’t know what is going to happen. If you are going to last here for a long time, I am not trying to scare you. I am just telling you, it’s the truth.”
The employee tells the children to place their trust in them: “While you are here, you guys are OK. We are protecting you. We are trying to help you guys so that you can reunify with your family or whoever it be. Understood?”
The woman did not elaborate on why she quit but told Maddow she was critical of the nonprofit's stagnant staffing at the upper Manhattan care center, especially as the facility takes on a staggering number of migrant children.
The social service organization has been awarded the most federal funding for the "Unaccompanied Alien Children Program" in New York with nearly $40 million in grants since late 2017, records show.
The group is hosting the most migrant children in the state as well, having placed a majority of the city’s 239 separated children into foster care since President Trump’s contentious “zero tolerance” policy.
Avenatti believes the number of children with Cayuga Centers may be higher.
The lawyer and Cayuga Centers officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Mayor De Blasio toured the facility last week and recalled seeing 30-40 kids packed into classrooms, he said. The youngest was just 9-months-old.
He said mental and physical health was one of the biggest challenges for the children.
“They were kept in, originally, detention facilities,” Hizzoner said. “Some came (to NYC) with lice, some came with bed bugs, some had chicken pox.”
He pointed to Jessica as an example of the mental health challenges for separated children.
“Look at Jessica in that video. Look how distraught she is. Look how shocked she still is from the experience.”
“She doesn’t know what’s going to happen," he said.
The mayor panned the federal government for failing to strategize reunification and said his administration would pitch in by sending physical and mental health providers to the shelter, as well as legal help for the kids to find their parents.
“The folks at the Cayuga Centers, they really are trying their best, I believe it, but they didn’t expect this influx. They don’t have enough health professionals on site,” he added.
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