Equity & Diversity

New York Communities Prepare for Influx of Unaccompanied Minors

By Lesli A. Maxwell — July 18, 2014 2 min read
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The mayor of Syracuse, N.Y., is urging federal officials to open a shelter to house some of the surging numbers of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, while leaders in New York City have launched a task force to help public schools, nonprofits, and other city agencies mobilize resources to serve the influx of children and youth.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday requesting that federal officials speed up the approval process for opening a shelter for up to 200 children in a former convent, according to the Associated Press. The mayor’s message stands in stark contrast to the mounting opposition that federal officials have faced in many communities across the nation as they search for shelter space to house thousands of the young migrants.

In her letter, Mayor Miner wrote that “people in Syracuse are engrossed by the plight of the children arriving at our border. As a city with a rich immigrant tradition, we feel strongly these children should be welcomed and protected.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office of immigrant affairs is spearheading an effort that includes the city’s school system to address the needs of the more than 3,000 undocumented children and youths who have arrived in the city over the past few months. Nisha Agarwal, who is the commissioner of immigrant affairs, told me in an interview recently that many of the young migrants who’ve reached New York City are those who were detained at the Southwest border and have since been released to a parent or adult sponsor.

As we reported last month, school systems around the nation have already responded to the uptick in numbers of child migrants and are bracing for an even bigger influx in the coming months.

In Miami-Dade, for example, school officials are seeking additioning federal funding to cover their increased costs of educating growing numbers of recently arrived immigrant students. Both federal civil rights law and the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe declare that states cannot bar students who are undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public school.

Syracuse educators have a lot of experience in working with refugee and immigrant children. Starting in 2008, Syracuse, a city of 144,000 residents, became one of a handful of American cities that welcomed a wave of refugees from Bhutan, which my former colleague Mary Ann Zehr wrote about.

Since last October, more than 50,000 child migrants—most of them from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—have been detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents along the border between Texas and Mexico. That’s more than twice the number detained in all of 2013.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told me that as today (July 18), 45,513 unaccompanied minors have been released to a parent or adult sponsor, while 8,693 are currently being housed in shelters that are overseen by the federal agency.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.