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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

A plea to President Obama: Fix the immigration system now

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Cross Hall in the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: AP / Saul Loeb

Dear Mr. President,

By now, your office has received an invitation for you to visit the Barack Obama School in Hempstead. It was, officials say, the first school in the nation to take your name after your election as president.

Please consider accepting the invitation. It would mean a lot to the children.

But don't stop there.

Please visit other schools in the district, which is located in Hempstead Village, which is located in Hempstead, the nation's most populous town.

There you will see how the lack of a sensible national immigration policy is causing anger and confusion in the community, particularly in its schools.

Hempstead Village has been dealing with the impact of undocumented immigrants for decades.

In the 1980s, then-Mayor James Garner, a Republican and the first African American to serve as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, wrestled with finding enough money to fund increased garbage collections and the local sewer system, which was straining to cope with unanticipated use. The problem? Because of undocumented immigrants, the village had far more residents than the U.S. Census reflected.

The federal government pretty much had left Garner and his village to deal with the impact of an increasing population. The scenario continues to play out across Long Island and in other communities around the nation to this day.

You should know, Mr. President, that Hempstead's school district is in the midst of a brouhaha over leadership. That's in large part because the majority of students in schools are Latino and their parents are claiming more of a leadership role in a district that for decades was majority African American.

You also should know that as one of the lowest-performing districts in the state, Hempstead has one of the highest costs per pupil -- funded by local property taxes (in a region with some of the highest taxes in the nation) and a significant sum of supplemental state money.

Now consider this:

Residents of the Hempstead district and New York State will bear the additional cost of educating one of the largest contingents of unescorted undocumented immigrant children in the tri-state region.

How's that working out?

On Tuesday, a woman wearing an electronic ankle bracelet that immigration agents can track complained that her two sons were not being admitted to Hempstead schools.

The New York State constitution entitles children, no matter their immigration status, an education. So Hempstead has been searching for room in already overcrowded classrooms, and it's trying to make more use of its ESL teachers.

Meanwhile, the district is looking into renting more space to accommodate its growing student body.

And the new students? Critics say more than 30 of them are being counted as present -- likely because attendance numbers are tied to funding -- but are expected to remain at home. A spokesman said the district is investigating whether the allegations are true, "and if they are we will fix it immediately."

The district is spending money and making decisions on everything from classroom size to teaching assignments because officials have little choice under the nation's tangled immigration policies.

Is the woman with the bracelet going to be allowed to stay in the United States? And what of her two sons? Are they coming? Going? And what of the other unescorted children being warehoused in shelters?

Mr. President, your decision to put off dealing with immigration until after the upcoming elections does not help. The nation, after more than three decades of fits and starts, needs sensible immigration reform. A visit to Hempstead ought to be more than enough to drive the point home.

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