Here are two differing points of view on immigrant children arriving to the region.
Offer support here and address crisis' roots
By Theo Liebmann
Long Island is home to large, vibrant immigrant communities from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It is also among the most common destinations for unaccompanied children seeking protection and humanitarian relief at the southern border. Suffolk and Nassau rank third and fifth among all U.S. counties in number of unaccompanied children released to sponsors.
As national and local officials consider policies to manage this ongoing crisis, key lessons can be learned from a clear-eyed look at recent history.
This crisis isn’t new. The surge of children from the Northern Triangle accelerated during the second Obama administration, and hasn’t abated. During the Trump administration, the average annual number of unaccompanied child border encounters was actually higher than during the second Obama administration (55,942 compared to 51,814 with a record high of 76,136 in 2019.)
Despite deterrence-focused rhetoric and policies that have undoubtedly left young immigrants more fearful and confused — including some, like family separation, that have been disavowed by even most immigration hard-liners — there was no discernible deterrent effect on migration of unaccompanied children.
Large numbers of children arriving at the border are entitled to forms humanitarian aid that were widely supported by both political parties. In other words, treating children arriving at our borders compassionately is not just a moral issue; it is supported by long-existing laws with bipartisan underpinnings.
Allowing children to live with family members doesn’t appear to negatively impact communities. Studies show that increases in immigration have no negative effect on a community's economy or crime rate. To the extent some Long Island immigrant communities have grappled with gang-related violence, perpetrators are rarely unaccompanied children.
Finally, the biggest local challenge during the surge has been accommodating immigrant children in Long Island schools. Ensuring adequate resources for English language learners and remedial education requires strong state-level advocacy so districts get funding to which they are legally entitled. The need for resources puts pressures on schools, though there have actually been recent dramatic increases in graduation rates in at least two districts with large influxes of immigrant students — Hempstead and Brentwood.
Legislators can use lessons from the past to respond to the crisis. One new bill, proposed by Republicans and supported by at least one House Democrat, endorses "protecting" immigrant children by expelling them from the border to deter child immigrants. More promising is the Biden administration's proposal encouraging private investment in Central America, and supporting programs to confront governmental corruption, improve security, and enhance rule of law. This addresses root causes of child immigration and would be the first robust preemptive policy aimed at alleviating humanitarian crises in the Northern Triangle that drive children to migrate.
Theo Liebmann is the director of the Hofstra Law Clinic.
Immigrant children overburden LI schools
By Andrea Vecchio
With President Biden's recent changes to immigration policy, a new wave of undocumented immigrant children may soon be enrolling in school districts on Long Island. Taxpayers need to be told they have unknowingly assumed the responsibility of providing these children with a K-12 education, including the cost of any special education services these students will require.
In the last decade, Long Island became home to thousands of unaccompanied minors who crossed the Mexican border. Predominantly male and mostly teenagers, they knew to ask for asylum, which allowed them to stay pending a court judgment on their status.
The extent of this problem is being hidden by the education systems since this influx of students benefits them. School districts can justify overstaffing, despite often having fewer students to teach as most of Long Island’s school districts are seeing a slow and steady decline in enrollment. At the same time, homeowners continue to be overtaxed.
It is not a coincidence that just when tapped-out taxpayers should see their school taxes going down in line with the sharp drop in enrollments, many new students suddenly appear from elsewhere.
In 2016, we submitted a Freedom of Information request for out-of-district enrollment numbers after an East Islip school board member questioned a fourfold increase in "homeless students" from the year before. The district denied our request for the numbers, claiming it violated student privacy laws. While those in the system do know how many nondistrict students are in the schools, the taxpaying public is not told. And all the while, the state Education Department was stringently enforcing federal law by insisting school districts take in all who enrolled regardless of residency requirements.
With the COVID-19 crisis on the way out and a pro-immigrant administration in charge, and as more students arrive, the potential for increased gang activity in school districts has to be acknowledged and dealt with. We can’t repeat government and school authorities’ past slowness in acting against gang violence and the growth of MS-13.
There is no easy fix for this. The die was cast long ago, once it was decreed that children of those who have entered the country illegally have the right to a free public education. Yet this entitlement is in direct opposition to the rights of property owners who, in most parts of Long Island, pay for their own schools through their local property tax.
State and federal governments are responsible for educating the students they placed in our school districts. Those costs should be returned to the already overburdened taxpayers in tax reductions. The soon-to-arrive federal bonanza of school aid is coming to our schools with the caveat that no schools that reduce property taxes will reap the benefits. This plan will save and grow teachers’ jobs and union power while the rest of us will never see lower taxes.
Andrea Vecchio is on the board of Long Islanders for Education Reform.