Report: 39,000 immigrant kids coming to U.S.
Victor Manuel Ramos
About 39,000 immigrant children are expected to enter the country illegally as unaccompanied minors this federal fiscal year, reaching the second-highest level of that migration since 2008, says an analysis issued Wednesday by a research group in Washington, D.C.
The estimate by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit that studies the movement of people across international borders, is based on apprehension figures issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the first five months of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2014, and ends Sept. 30.
Many of the children coming from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala likely will be resettled where there are established Central American communities, such as Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, said Marc Rosenblum, the report’s author.
“They are coming from similar communities and are headed to similar communities,” said Rosenblum, deputy director of the institute’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program. “The local impact is that whatever challenges school districts and local health care systems are under already are likely to increase.”
The second wave of immigrants, as some are calling it, is expected even as localities and school systems struggle to absorb about 53,500 children who arrived in the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2014. Those minors continue to move through a multistep immigration court process to decide whether they can stay or are to be deported.
More than 3,000 of those minors moved in with relatives or sponsors on Long Island, making the region one of the top places in the nation to receive the children.
Some Long Island school districts saw enrollment spikes from the recent arrivals and felt pressured to give them needed classroom instruction and other educational services. At the same time, immigrant advocates and other groups, including New York Communities for Change and the Long Island chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, mobilized to protect the children’s rights.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Wednesday that he and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) will reintroduce a proposal to send emergency funding to school districts that are receiving the young immigrants. The two co-sponsored a bill that stalled last year.
“Because of a failed federal policy, financial responsibility must fall on the federal government and not the Long Island taxpayer,” King said in a statement.
Israel Wednesday called the bill to reimburse schools “common-sense, bipartisan legislation to provide emergency relief.”
So far this fiscal year, 12,065 unaccompanied minors have been referred for resettlement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, which shelters the children until they are released to relatives or sponsors. About 620 of those had come to Long Island and New York City as of February — 178 in Suffolk and 113 in Nassau.
In addition to unaccompanied minors, children also arrive in the United States with their mothers or other relatives, a trend that is expected to continue. Those children are counted separately in federal statistics as being part of family units.
Victoria Campos, an immigration attorney with offices in Huntington Station, Bay Shore and Riverhead, said she has about 25 newcomers among her clients, but most of her cases are from 2013 and 2014. She has seen a decline recently, noting there is a monthslong lag until attorneys see new cases.
“I tend to agree that there is going to be a second wave,” said Campos, adding that “a lot of the minors that have come are here because something traumatic has happened in their lives,” and conditions in their countries haven’t improved in the past year.
They are fleeing a host of ills, including high crime, gang violence and poverty in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Cities in those countries have some of the highest murder rates in the world.
The recent surges in border crossings have been felt more acutely where there were established immigrant populations.
The Hempstead school district became the focus of investigations by the state attorney general’s office and the State Education Department after advocates complained that newly arrived children were turned away from school last fall.
There are larger concerns for the region’s affected school systems, now in the midst of figuring out budget plans for the 2015-16 school year.
Roger Tilles, Long Island’s member of the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy, said this week he is “very concerned” about districts that have received the bulk of the immigrant children.
“It’s a bind not just for the schools, but it’s a bind for the kids that are already in the schools,” Tilles said, “because with a limit to what a school can raise on property tax caps and increased students . . . there is no place to go, except take away from existing programs.”
Norman Wagner, board president in the Central Islip district, said “a large number of undocumented immigrant minors” were resettled there, and it “far exceeded our student enrollment projections.”
“We will educate every child,” Wagner said in a statement. “However, unannounced placements of students by the federal government must be funded by the agency which placed these students.”
Other districts on the Island that saw enrollment increases because of the recent arrivals include Brentwood, Freeport, Glen Cove, Hampton Bays, Huntington and Westbury.
Groups that want stricter enforcement blame the federal government for inaction as taxpayers bear the costs. They want immigrant children turned back at the border.
“Unless the federal government dramatically changes its policies on how they deal with the new arrivals, we can expect to see almost the same number of new arrivals as we did last year, because there’s no reason for them to stay” in Central America, said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that wants strict enforcement.
The Migration Policy Institute’s analysis, though, calls the federal government’s efforts “a success” because the flow of immigrant children is declining. It credited, in part, a “multifaceted regional policy response” by the United States in partnership with Mexico and Central American nations that “greatly reduced” illegal crossings since last year.
Marsha Catron, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees several immigration agencies, said the federal government sent more patrol agents to secure the border, built detention space and launched a campaign in Central America to highlight “the dangers of the journey.”
The Obama administration also stepped up “in-country” refugee processing so that immigrants here legally can petition to have their children come to the United States rather than seek to have them smuggled.
Advocacy groups said little has been done to help communities that have received the children. A recent $14 million federal grant for education costs would be a drop in the bucket, they said, when divided among affected schools across many states. With the arrival of more unaccompanied minors, nonprofits also may run out of grant funds to provide legal representation and support services.
Margie McHugh, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, said the situation with unaccompanied minors “won’t go away, but it probably won’t be the crisis that we had last summer.” She hopes that “cooler heads will prevail” for Washington to set policy and provide aid.