Why Doesn’t Anyone Know How Many Migrant Children are in Long Island Classrooms?
By Hank Russell
By now, you may have heard the story of planeloads of illegal immigrants being flown to the Westchester airport in the dead of night. Where do the migrants go from there? And where are the unaccompanied minors settling for housing and schooling? You may be surprised to know that it’s almost impossible to get an answer to the question.
Since the massive flow of unaccompanied minors across the southern border picked up steam in the second term of the Obama administration, some local residents have been trying to find out from their school board representatives how many of these children had settled within their district. In an essay recently published in Newsday, Brian Phillips and Shelly Culbertson of the RAND Corporation noted “no one source kept tabs on children as they moved from the border to local communities and, ultimately, into K-12 schools.”
In October 2021, News 12 Long Island spoke to U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Huntington). The congressman said that there were nearly 2,500 children sent to Suffolk, Nassau and Queens Counties during the previous four months. “They give us general countywide numbers for Nassau, Suffolk and Queens but not specific school district numbers,” he said.
Andrea Vecchio of East Islip, a one-time leader of Suffolk Tax Pac, has been seeking for years to try to pinpoint the number of migrants that have settled in the East Islip school district.
Vecchio said it’s important to know this number so that taxpayers can have a better understanding of what resources are needed to deal with children who don’t speak English and come here without family often in the middle of the school year.
“While there’s no desire to identify the individuals by name, there is the need to know who is settling here so that local officials can have a better handle on their budgets and also seek federal reimbursement for the strain that is placed on the district taxpayers,” said Vecchio.
According to data from the New York State Department of Education (NYSED), 9.9% of the approximately 2.34 million public school students (grades K-12) in New York State are English language learners (ELLs). New York City leads all school districts in the state with 134,964 ELL students. Brentwood has the most on Long Island with 6,438, followed by Hempstead (2,584), Central Islip (2,379), and Riverhead (1,860).
Over the past 10 years, the number of Long Island ELL students has increased by 55.5%, according to NYSED. As of October 2020, there were 42,163 students who spoke English as a second language, accounting for 18.2% of the state’s total ELL population (including New York City).
LI Life & Politics reached out to the East Islip, Brentwood and Sachem school districts to inquire as to how many migrant children have been enrolled in the district in the last ten years. The district either failed to respond or could not provide the requested information.
Vecchio said it is easy to blame these children for the problems in the school system, but it isn’t their fault. “Rather, it lies with the secrecy of our government officials who are promoting illegal activity and then fail to inform local residents of the impact that these foolish policies have on their communities.” She also noted that when taxpayers had complained about the strain illegal immigrant minors had on local districts, there would often be a backlash from the liberal media.
Critics would be labeled racist or xenophobic, while illegal immigration advocates would claim that illegal immigration is a net plus economically for a community. But recently, as Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been bussing illegal border crossers to Washington, D.C. and New York, the big-city mayors have been crying foul, claiming that the influx of the displaced children places economic hardship for the local governments. They have called for the federal government to provide more reimbursement. As a result, mayors who advocated for “sanctuary cities” are now conceding that the placement of the foreign national border crossers does indeed strain school budgets, the housing market and the health care system.
On July 22, 2021, two Long Island members of Congress — Andrew Garbarino (R-Massapequa Park) and Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) introduced a bill (H.R.4667) that would provide federal funding for local school districts that are taking in unaccompanied minors from other countries. In a statement, Garbarino said, “It should be the federal government who picks up the tab for educating these children once they are there, not Long Island taxpayers. While it is imperative that we address the unprecedented border crossings we have seen in recent months, this bill is a commonsense solution to ensure that the influx of migrants does not place any further burden on our public schools.”
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.