New York Orders Review of Immigrant Enrollment Actions

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Officials in New York State have ordered a statewide review of public school compliance concerning enrollment policies towards unaccompanied minors and immigrant children.

The review stems from recent reports of dozens of immigrant children from Central America who were not allowed to attend a Long Island high school.

Almost 2,500 such children have been placed with family members on Long Island after a wave of border crossings by unaccompanied minors came to the United States seeking safety.

“The issue is very simple for us; the law in New York State says these children will be seated in their home school districts, whatever those districts are, and we plan to make sure that does happen,” state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said during a visit to a Roosevelt, Long Island, elementary school.

The review will begin with four suburban districts in the New York City area — Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, and Rockland counties.  These counties have the largest number of unaccompanied minors, with Nassau reporting 1,250 and Suffolk 1,358.  Afterwards, the review will expand to all districts across the state.

Officials will review each school’s written enrollment and registration data, as well as information released to the public.  Officials from Attorney General Schneiderman’s office will also meet with advocates in each district to discuss legal obligations of the schools, and the rights of the students.

The US Customs and Border Protection reported over 68,000 unaccompanied minors entered the US between October 2013 and September 2014.

The Board of Regents requested the review after Hempstead School District had reportedly turned away 3 dozen immigrant students for almost an entire month, stating the school was overcrowded.  Advocates for the children and their families say the children started attending school this week in an auxiliary school opened by Hempstead in rented office space.

A separate investigation is being conducted by the Education Department into whether or not the students were in fact denied their constitutional right to a basic education.

A US Supreme Court ruling in 1982 from Plyler v. Doe stated that undocumented children have the right to a free public education.

“Schoolhouse doors must be open to every student in our increasingly diverse state regardless of their immigration status,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement. “There is simply no excuse for denying that basic right, which is protected by the Constitution.”

Long Island immigration advocates said they have not heard other claims of immigrant students unable to attend school, other than the Hempstead case.

Tisch said she hopes to see state and federal funding become available to help school districts deal with the overcrowding issues that may arise with the addition of the new immigrant students.

“These children have been brought here and they deserve no less than what the American way of life has been built on,” Tisch said. “America was built on immigrants and we plan to make sure that is respected.”