What Are U.S. Schools Doing to Prepare for the Recent Surge in Undocumented Minors

By Julissa Catalan

According to a report by Education Week, schools across the United States are beginning to prepare for the recent wave of undocumented minors who will soon be joining the public-school system in the coming years.

Last month, more than 1,000 undocumented and unaccompanied minors were sent to an Arizona shelter following an unprecedented surge at the Mexico-U.S. border.

Since last October, patrol agents have detained a reported 50,000 children at the U.S. border—more than double the amount for all of 2013.

Most of these children are not Mexican, but rather from Central America—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in particular—where an increase in gang violence and poverty seems to be driving these children to make the dangerous journey through Mexico and across the border.

A Miami nonprofit that provides legal services to unaccompanied minors reported having served 1,600 children since January—the same amount it served for all of 2013.

Last month, the Miami-Dade County school board approved Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s request for additional funding to help cover the costs of the “spike in the number of foreign-born students from Central America, specifically Honduras.”

New York City is also coordinating with nonprofits as well as city agencies to aid the 3,000 undocumented youths who have arrived this year.

“There are so many non-educational needs that need tending to for these young people before they can even begin to focus on their education,” said Claire Sylvan, Executive Director and President of the Internationals Network for Public Schools. Internationals Network is a group of 17 high schools around the U.S. that serve newly arrived undocumented minors and English-language learners.

Prince George’s County in Maryland is home to a large Central American immigrant population. Prior to 2012, the school system had about 75 students, all within middle-school to high-school age. In 2013, the number of undocumented minors began to rise.

According to Patricia Chiancone, International Student Counselor for the school district, “We had over 200 unaccompanied minors this past school year. And we are seeing them at the elementary level, which is new.”

The district is said to be providing teachers with professional development over the summer to better equip them on how to properly guide these children.

San Francisco International High School hosts 400 students who have recently immigrated to the U.S.

According to the school’s Principal, Julie Kessler, the percentage of unaccompanied minors has risen from 10 percent to 25 percent since the school opened in 2009.

Kessler says her school is specifically designed to cater to these children’s needs, providing counseling, housing referrals and legal representation.

“Our school is really built for these kids,” She said, “They are not marginalized here, and we have the luxury of being able to really focus on what their needs are.”

Learning a new language and adapting to a new culture while attending school can be a very overwhelming experience for kids, but according to Kessler, these are the students who are the most motivated.

“These are some of the most resilient and brilliant young people I have ever seen,” she said.

While the White House has said it is addressing the increase in unaccompanied minors both in the U.S. as well as working collaboratively with Central American leaders, the Obama administration declared a “humanitarian crisis.”

A large number of detentions occur in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of Texas. Typically, the children who manage to get through then migrate to other parts of Texas and California.

However, in the last year, states such as Florida, Maryland and Washington, along with northern parts of California and New York City, have also seen a surge in Central American migrants.

By law, underage children cannot be released—or deported—unless a parent or guardian claims them. They are usually sent to a long-term shelter overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they are given food, medical treatment and English-as-a-second-language classes.

Once the children are released to family members or adult sponsors, they are expected to immediately enroll in school, and these schools have to be prepared for these kids.

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