English Learners

Will Schools Be Prepared for Latest Surge of Unaccompanied Minors?

By Corey Mitchell — January 08, 2016 1 min read
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The number of unaccompanied school-age children from Central America arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border is once again on the rise, but it’s unclear what effect the increase will have on the nation’s K-12 schools.

The “rising flows in 2015 offer a reminder that humanitarian and migration pressures ... remain a major concern, and that smuggling networks play a significant role,” wrote Marc R. Rosenblum and Isabel Ball, authors of a report from the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group.

In 2014, tens of thousands of children from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador sought to enter the United States along the country’s southern border. After arrivals of unaccompanied minors and families peaked at 27,000 in June 2014, the numbers dipped to less than 5,000 just three months later, due in part to enforcement efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as on migration routes along Mexico’s southern border.

The summer 2014 rush taxed the resources of school systems that welcomed new students who entered the United States illegally; most were English-language learners. Under federal law, the students are entitled to a free public education regardless of their immigration status.

Now, the numbers are again on the uptick, with 12,000 child and adult migrant arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras last November. The countries are still experiencing high levels of violence and poverty, the key factors forcing migrants to flee their home countries.

The report offers no insight into what the influx of new arrivals will mean for the nation’s K-12 schools, but it does indicate that “U.S. relatives and communities are a logical destination for those fleeing violence or otherwise seeking to improve their lives.”

While districts can estimate how many new students they will be absorbing from the border crisis, many won’t know how many additional resources they’ll need until students show up.

If the trend continues, districts and other state and federal agencies could be better prepared to meet their needs this time around.

The recent surge coincides with the Obama administration’s planned deportation raids of Central American immigrant families, that have drawn the ire of immigrant rights groups and some Democrats in Congress.


Graphic Source: Migration Policy Institute

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