America’s crisis at the border is now a crisis in New York public schools.
The Biden Administration is flooding New York City and Long Island communities with thousands of unaccompanied immigrant minors captured crossing the Mexico-US border, often arriving here, as The Post recently reported, via clandestine flights in the middle of the night.
The arrival of these children, mostly teenage boys, in local schools is creating a classroom crisis that is strapping educational resources, costing taxpayers millions in un-budgeted dollars, and aiding gang-recruiting efforts, argue parents, teachers and immigration experts.
“We’re at maxed capacity for kids with special needs, but they’ll keep sending them,” lamented one high school teacher in Queens, among the communities hardest hit by the illegal-immigrant student dump.
New York City and Long Island are hotspots for shipping children rounded up illegally crossing the border without guardians, according to recent US Department of Health and Human Services data.
Fifteen counties nationwide have received more than 1,000 unaccompanied children caught at the border over the past year, reported HHS. The top five counties on the list are all in Texas, California and south Florida.
But four of those 15 counties are right here in New York: Suffolk (1,528), Queens (1,314), Nassau (1,064) and Brooklyn (1,046). The Bronx nearly made the list, with 461 unaccompanied students. New York is the only state in America with four counties receiving more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors, despite its 1,700-mile distance from the southern border.
The 1,528 children released into Suffolk County is sixth most of any county in the nation. The HHS list includes only those counties that received 50 or more minors for the 11-month period from Oct. 1, 2020 through Aug. 31, 2021. Manhattan and Staten Island were not on the list.
These numbers are on top of the legal and illegal immigrant children arriving, or who already live here, with parents or a guardian. An estimated 504,000 undocumented immigrants live in New York City, according to a 2020 report by the city’s Department of Education.
The surge in migrant crossings during the Biden Administration has included a reported 125,000 unaccompanied minors.
The resulting influx of unaccompanied children into local schools becomes “a giant unfunded mandate and enormously unfair to the communities that are forced to accommodate these kids,” said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy for the Center for Immigration Studies. “It causes enormous challenges for the schools, a disruption in the quality of education for all and sometimes even a crime problem that wasn’t there before.”
One Brooklyn teacher said his ninth-grade English language arts class this year has 13 children from Ecuador alone, noting that educators are not privy to a child’s legal status.
“I think it’s good for New York City because our enrollment numbers are going down. The school lost students during the pandemic,” the teacher said. “This kind of evens out the enrollment.”
But unaccompanied immigrant children often surprise administrators, teachers, students and parents when they show up suddenly at local schools, many with special education needs, minimal school time at home, and unable to speak English. Some of these children, from indigenous Central American cultures, don’t speak Spanish either, notes Vaughan.
“Most parents are not even aware this is going on,” said Sam Pirozzolo, former president of the Community Education Council on Staten Island, while those aware of potential problems are afraid to raise politically incorrect concerns amid an angry cancel culture that forbids dissent.
“Parents are under assault, period,” he said. “They’re already called domestic terrorists for standing up for their children. It’s difficult enough worrying about your own children, your own families and your local neighborhood politics but then have to worry about another issue. Parents are under siege as it is.”
Flight-tracking data suggests that around 2,000 underage migrants have arrived at Westchester County Airport on 21 flights just since Aug. 8. Most were bused to locations in New York City and Long Island, The Post discovered.
“The city is not notified by the federal government of arrivals,” City Hall officials told The Post. “But we do monitor trends in the publicly released data, and engage with local service providers, particularly legal services providers, to understand and troubleshoot any barriers to accessing city services.”
A majority of the unaccompanied minors, 68 percent, are teenage boys from Central American nations, HHS reports, mostly Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, raising concerns the program may serve as a pipeline for gang activity.
MS-13, a gang rooted in Central America and a magnet for teenage boys, has infiltrated local high schools in recent years, with deadly results. The gang violence included a brutal quadruple homicide, three of the victims teenagers, in Central Islip, L.I., in 2017.
MS-13 “has deliberately taken advantage” of America’s unaccompanied minors policy to “grow their ranks in the United States,” said Vaughan. “New York happens to be one of those areas where MS-13 clique leaders have been told to take advantage of our open border.”
Struggling schools and communities, those that can least afford to handle an influx of needy new students, end up bearing the brunt of the problem.
“They (unaccompanied minors) are not going to Eleanor Roosevelt High School, I’ll tell you that,” the Queens teacher told The Post, referencing a top-ranked school with rigorous admission standards.
“They’re never placed in screened schools. It’s essentially just a cycle of dumping kids in schools that are unscreened … regardless of the geographic district or zone. All you’re doing is creating more of a divide in a system that’s already divided.”
The language barrier alone strains city resources. The Brooklyn teacher told The Post his high school has seen a recent influx of teens from El Salvador, and that he’s happy to accept them after enrollment fell during the pandemic. But now his school is short on English as a New Language (ENL) teachers after two were ousted for being unvaccinated.
The city runs five ELL (English Language Learner) transfer schools for older teen immigrants, but four of them are in Manhattan, which makes it difficult for kids to commute from immigrant hotspots Queens and Brooklyn. And there are not enough seats for all the newcomers, so they have to be placed in local schools which may not have the staff or resources to meet their needs, said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, director of the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project for Advocates for Children of New York.
“The biggest challenge is that the DOE doesn’t have enough local schools which are supportive for these students,” she said. “There are not enough school placement options, both for older and younger (students).”
Concerns about failing education, strained school resources and children falling prey to gangs come on top of the crushing financial burden new students place on taxpayers.
New York City and Long Island schools spend an average of about $28,000 per student, per year. The addition of nearly 6,000 students means $156 million in added tax burden because the feds shoved immigrant students into local communities.
The DOE refused to answer questions about funding to educate unaccompanied immigrant minors.
“The federal government has come in and said ‘we’re going to social-engineer your schools and there’s nothing you can do about it,’” said Andrea Vecchio, a founding member of the East Islip Taxpayers PAC, which began battling the arrival of unaccompanied minors during the Obama Administration.
Smaller communities, such as those on Long Island, struggle harder to meet the challenge of educating foreign students who show up at the door one day.
East Islip’s small school system of just 3,350 students had as many as 50 unaccompanied minors as recently as 2019, before the pandemic sent kids home. The current number is unknown, but “probably higher” said former school board member Phil Montouri. Just 33 new students equals about $1 million in added annual costs – a big number for small communities.
Rodriguez-Engberg, whose group helps enroll the newcomers in city schools, said gang concerns are overblown.
“All the students we serve are very eager to be in school and waiting for the enrollment to happen so they can get their lives together,” she said.
The city opens its arms to all students, despite any outside concerns.
“New York City has and will always be a welcoming city of immigrants and we are proud to serve every young person in New York City – regardless of immigration status,” Department of Education spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon told The Post.
“By law, every child in our city has a right to a public school education and we do not ask about immigration status. Education is a human right.”
Students in New York City have that right to a free public education up until age 21, which means that a 20-year-old man being groomed for MS-13 might be sitting in class next to a teenage girl, warns Vaughan.