Michaud: Border kids enter LI schools

Children participate in a U.S. citizenship ceremony at

Children participate in a U.S. citizenship ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district office in Manhattan. (Jan. 29, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Many of the "border kids" who've taken temporary shelter in Nassau and Suffolk counties -- 2,277 unaccompanied minors -- started school on Long Island this week. And with the first day of school came several complaints in the form of Letters to the Editor.

These children, taken together "would comprise the need for one of the larger LI school districts," wrote Edward J. Smith of Plainview. He calculated a cost of $20,000 per child, or about $40 million more for New York taxpayers.

Whoa! Slow down a minute.

Smith and others who question the expense are correct that many of these kids will be in classrooms. But that's consistent with a 1982 Supreme Court decision: States cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.

So Freeport schools, for example, are enrolling at least 19 students from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- 15 at the high school, one in middle school and three in elementary school. They're here living with parents, cousins, other relatives or sponsors until the immigration courts can hear their cases for asylum.

Copiague schools will also see an influx.

Strangely enough, the letter writers protesting the financial burden aren't from those school districts. Letters came from Westbury, Commack and South Farmingdale, as well as Plainview.

But the underlying sentiment isn't proximity, I think, it's the sense that our American financial security has eroded, and we just can't afford to let loose another penny. I get it. To some extent, I feel this, too.

However, let's look at the issue logically. First, these kids are probably here temporarily, and most will likely be sent home because it's difficult to prove the level of persecution that leads to asylum. But there will be a delay. A law passed in 2002, and amended in 2008, requires immigration hearings for unaccompanied children. There's a court backlog, which President Barack Obama wanted to unclog with about $2 billion for more judges and other emergency measures. Congress wouldn't go for it. Without more judges, the backlog could endure for years.

Congressional Republicans held out to change the law, so that unaccompanied minors from Central America can be deported without formal hearings. Washington. Deadlocked, again.

Beyond the politics, though, I don't think Smith's math works. Nineteen more kids in Freeport, in a school population of about 7,000, is an increase of less than one-quarter of one percent. Nineteen kids don't even amount to an entire classroom. You don't need to hire a new teacher for 19 kids, much less another assistant superintendent. You don't need to open or heat another school building.

Those sorts of overhead costs are all included when we talk about annual per-pupil costs.

Yes, it's likely they'll need help with English. But not $20,000 apiece.

I predict that these students will continue to cause as much disruption as they have since they first began moving here in January: That is, none at all.

Where the shouting will come from are places like Commack, where community members amassed to protest the Holy Cross Lutheran Church housing about 40 kids -- a plan the church abandoned. When people raise their voices this way, it isn't logic talking.

It's fear.