US schools hit with ‘unprecedented strain’ due to vast numbers of migrant children being released

Since President Biden took office in early 2021, nearly half a million unaccompanied children have crossed over the U.S. border with Mexico, according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data.

That staggering figure “does not include children who arrived with a family member,” the Washington Examiner reports.

“Of the 464,000, roughly 391,000 children have been released into the country between fiscal 2021 and January 2024,” the outlet reports. “Fiscal 2021 began shortly before the November 2020 election while President Donald Trump was still in office.”

And all those kids — many with “educational and socioemotional needs” and lacking the ability to speak English — are now enrolling in America’s public schools, putting quite the strain on an already stressed system.

Julie Sugarman, associate director of K-12 education research at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, called the influx of immigrant children “unprecedented.”

“Although the majority of U.S. schools receiving unaccompanied minors and other immigrant children are not new to serving this population,” she told the Examiner in an email, “many educators have described the number of newcomers arriving in the 2023-24 school year as unprecedented.”

“Children who come across the southern border are protected from immediate removal in most cases and will be transferred from Border Patrol custody to the Department of Health and Human Services,” according to the Examiner. “HHS will then look for a relative or parent in the U.S. to release the child as he or she awaits immigration proceedings years down the road, though the child may be let go to an unrelated adult if a family member cannot be found.”

HHS claims on its website that free school is the “right” of migrant children.

“They have a right — just like other children living in their community — to enroll in local schools regardless of their or their sponsors’ actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status,” the agency proclaims. “State laws also require children to attend school up to a certain age.”

The Windy City welcomed between 12,000 and 14,000 immigrant children “directly from the southern border” into Chicago Public Schools, Democratic Alderman Raymond Lopez told the Examiner.

“That represents roughly 4% of the district’s 323,000 student body population,” the outlet adds.

Things aren’t much better in the Big Apple.

“As of January, 34,000 of New York City’s 915,000 students enrolled were immigrant children who arrived from the border, roughly 3% of all students and not including illegal immigrant children who entered the country during the Trump and Obama administrations,” according to the Examiner. “A new report from the conservative Washington think tank the Heritage Foundation concluded that New York spent millions of dollars to educate thousands of newly enrolled children from the border.”

“In New York, 8,477 unaccompanied alien children were sent to sponsors, according to [Office of Refugee Resettlement] data,” Heritage’s February report found. “New York spends $28,261 per pupil, making the total additional cost to taxpayers close to $240 million for one year.”

School budgets are set roughly six months ahead of time, in the March before a school year begins, according to Sugarman, who explained that “administrators are stretched to accommodate new arrivals without having access to additional funds.”

“The ‘nearly constant flow of new arrivals’ is difficult to manage because each student must be assessed for English language proficiency and academic level, then provided an orientation to the school system and new routines, Sugarman said,” the Examiner reports. “Most children do not arrive with school transcripts.”

“The second challenging area for schools is that more new arrivals are coming with greater educational and socioemotional needs than educators have seen in the past. Many students — especially teenagers — arrive with limited or interrupted formal education, requiring intensive support, and others have trauma from experiences in their home country or during travel,” Sugarman continued.

There may be a “short supply” of qualified bilingual staff, she said.

“About half of English Learner newcomers speak languages other than Spanish,” Sugarman explained, “so finding appropriate interpreters or training staff to use telephone interpretation services for those families can be more challenging.”

Melissa Fine


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