“When hundreds of unaccompanied children — part of a recent surge of thousands of migrants stopped at the Southern border after fleeing violence and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — were sent by federal officials to stay with relatives or other sponsors on Long Island, many found themselves blocked at the schoolhouse door.
The law requires public schools to enroll all children regardless of their immigration status. Yet guardians in Westbury, in Nassau County, told of an impossible scramble to meet demands for documents proving residency. Teenagers in Hempstead who showed up for class were sent home and told there was no room for them.
It’s not just a Long Island problem. Federal officials have warned districts across the country against defying a 1982 Supreme Court decision that guarantees the right of immigrant children to an education.
New York State’s Education Department announced on Thursday that it was reviewing school districts’ compliance with the law. It also has investigators looking into the situation in Hempstead, which this week finally admitted the Latino newcomers but sent them to a segregated “annex” about a mile from the high school.
On Long Island, not-in-my-backyard resentment and bureaucratic obstruction are getting in the way of equal treatment under the law. These schools have an obligation to meet, and children to teach. They have to find the money and will to do it.
Two Long Island congressmen, Steve Israel and Peter King, have a bill seeking federal funds, but a Congress that has flatly rejected any humanitarian response to the migrant influx can’t be counted on. That leaves it to Albany and local districts to find new funding, if necessary, to do right by these children.”