Educating Unaccompanied Youth/Refugee Children in NYS – Just the Facts


Some members of my advocacy group (and moreso in other groups),  have brought up the issue of unaccompanied minors in local NYS schools and are asking questions or making comments that are worth discussing despite the heated controversy that surrounds this subject. So I looked into the issue of educating unaccompanied minors and submit the following info and facts without debate.

First, to clarify, in NYS, an “unaccompanied youth” is a student who is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian; this includes domestic American born youth who have run away from home, have been kicked out of their homes, or have been abandoned by parents. There is no age restriction for unaccompanied youth, but these students are most often adolescents. Such students are covered under the McKinney-Vento Act when the student also lacks a fixed, adequate and regular nighttime residence. Homeless and Unaccompanied Youth have an absolute right to recieve a sound basic education. Here is an issue brief explaining how the McKinney-Vento Act protects the rights of homeless children to a public education.

For purpose of this post, I discuss refugee and unaccompanied minors  – that is due to the influx of students arriving in NYS from South America resulting from strife in their country of origin. NYS deals with such refugees and unaccompanied minors as the same from a policy perspective. Thus, unaccompanied minors escaping from South America due to strife are considered refugees for all intents and purposes. These children are  referred to as “unaccomanied minors” interchangably by NYSED for your info.

Many of the child migrants who fled to the United States to escape violence in Central America are now appearing before immigration judges without legal representation.

In mid-August, the federal government ordered immigration courts to expedite the legal proceedings for these children, creating a “surge docket” that would allow them to appear before immigration judges much sooner than the years it typically takes for deportation hearings to go to court.

An unaccompanied minor now must have a first hearing scheduled no later than 21 days after the Department of Homeland Security files a charging document for the child.

To date, 1,077 unaccompanied children have been scheduled to appear in New York City immigration court, according to the Legal Aid Society’s testimony at the hearing. About 51 percent of the children on the surge docket have legal representation.

Unlike criminal courts, immigration courts do not provide lawyers to those who cannot afford one. Thus, in some cases there are children as young as 5 appearing in court virtually alone and without representation.

Many of the children may qualify for “special immigrant juvenile status,” which allows children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected to stay in the country legally. The proceedings have been rocky due to sheer volume and lack of judicial time and resources.

To help handle the influx of children, the Obama administration is spending $4 million on lawyers for unaccompanied immigrant children in deportation proceedings but this too faces controversy.

In the meantime, NYS has set up representatives and lawyers at immigration court to help move the cases and to proivde minors with guidance that they need to navigate the system.

As of August 2014, the unaccompanied youth have been sheltered at the following locations through grants offered in and throughout NYS to deal with the crisis while they await more permanent housing:

2014 Irvington, New York – 1 Facility – Abbott House Residential Services [Residential facility for UAC “Unaccompanied Alien Children”] ABBOTT HOUSE 100 N BROADWAY IRVINGTON, NY 105331254 HHS Grant $ 2,983,200
2014 Valhalla, New York – 1 Facility – Cardinal McCloskey School & Home for Children [Long Term Housing while awaiting Foster Care Program for UAC’s] – Address: 115 Stevens Avenue VALHALLA, NY 105951252 HHS Grants $1,477,330
2014 Auburn, New York – 1 Foster Facility – Cayuga Home for Children DBA Cayuga Centers [In-Home Foster Care Services for Unaccompanied Alien Children] Address: 101 Hamilton Ave AUBURN, NY 13021 HHS Grants $8,376,471
2014 Mahopac, New York – 1 facility – Lincoln Hall [Temporary “Reunification” Shelter] Address: 145 Lincolndale Road LINCOLNDALE, NY 10541 $12,067,942
2014 New York, New York – 1 facility – Lutheran Family & Community Services [Residential and Foster Care] Address: 308 West 46th Street NEW YORK, NY 10036 HHS Grant $1,858,700
2014 Syosset, New York – 1 facility – Mercy First [Residential Care] Address: 525 Convent Road SYOSSET, NY 11791 HHS Grant $3,773,763
2014 Dobbs Ferry, New York – 1 facility – THE CHILDREN`S VILLAGE INC. [Domicile Care Facility – Longer Term UAC’s] Address: WETMORE HALL, 3RD FLOOR
DOBBS FERRY, NY 10522 HHS Grant $12,525,435
2014 Phoenix, Arizona – 1 facility – TUMBLEWEED CENTER FOR YOUTH DEVELOPMENT INC [Residential Shelter and Long Term Foster UAC Care] Address: 1419 NORTH 3RD ST, SUITE 102 PHOENIX, AZ 85004-1639 HHS Grant $1,557,966
2014 Kingston, New York – 1 facility – The Children`s Home of Kingston [Residential Shelter and Long Term UAC Housing] Address: 26 Grove St
KINGSTON, NY 12401 HHS Grant $999,200
2014 Poughkeepsie, New York – 1 facility – The Children`s Home of Poughkeepsie, Inc. [Residential Shelter and Long Term UAC Housing] Address: 10 Children`s Way POUGHKEEPSIE, NY 12601 HHS Grant $775,361

As of the end of August 2014, 4,799 unaccompanied minors have been placed with family members and other sponsors in New York state.

The breakdown by County is below:

As you can see, Nassau = 1207 and Suffolk = 1301 – the most UMs settle into NYS state were in these 2 areas. This Newsday piece shows that LI schools have experienced an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children and are struggling to deal with the situation.
The NYSPTA is highly supportive of NYS unaccompanied youth program and with that comes their advocacy. They write:

The surge in numbers of unaccompanied minor children (predominantly from Central America) crossing southwestern U.S. borders has drawn much national attention. Compelled by poverty, socio-economic inequities and high incidence of violence from gangs and drug cartels, parents seek passage to the U.S. for their daughters and sons. These children cross our borders carrying something more precious than their belongings – they carry hope, the hope that they will escape harm and that they will live a better life.

But the journey may be dangerous. It often relies on unscrupulous human smuggling networks that expose them to harm, exploitation and abuse. And if they survive the journey, once on US soil these children wait to be reunited with relatives already living in the U.S. Notes are pinned to the clothing of some as young as four years old to help identify and locate relatives. While they still carry hope, they must also wonder: Where do I go? Where do I belong?

The plight of these children presents an enormous challenge. Political posturing abounds. Blame is hurled at laws and policies established by current and previous presidential Administrations and failed immigration reform proposals. Congressional stalemates on requests for funding to address the large increase of children abound. But all this is irrelevant to the children. What we have is a humanitarian crisis. Federal law says minors cannot be held at a Border Patrol facility for more than 72 hours. They must be processed, then either sent to live with a relative or released to a shelter operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (Department of Health and Human Services). The refugee office operates only about 150 permanent shelters for unaccompanied minors and they are filled to capacity. So, again, where do they go?

As the influx of unaccompanied minor children is most recognized in the southwest, many of our states are experiencing increasing numbers with no immediate end in sight. New York places second only to Texas with the number of children released to sponsors, with over 4,000 children released to our state from January through July this year. Federal law requires that unaccompanied children arriving from non-bordering countries be given a removal hearing in court. While awaiting proceedings (which could take months or even years) unaccompanied children go through a two-step process: first, federal shelter until placed with a sponsor; second, release to “approved” sponsor, usually a family member or friend, to await disposition hearing.

When children are released to their sponsor, they are eligible to enroll in the local school district. Under Federal law, states and local educational agencies are obligated to provide all children – regardless of immigration status – equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level. This has resulted in schools across the nation, including our NY schools, experiencing a sharp rise in numbers of immigrant students. Districts receiving them are in need of resources, i.e. funding, staff and services, to assist supporting these students and families. So, where can we go? NYSPTA position statement on the issue:

NYSPTA provides their own FAQs on the issue:

Again, the policy is not without controversy. LI public  education concerns resulting from this program are discussed here:

Sadly, what seems to hang in the balance is compassion but does this comes with a hefty price tag? Its a tough situation. There are no easy answers and certainly no conversation can be had on the issue without raising valid concerns  or debate on both sides of the issue.

Whatever your position, I think its important to share NYSED and USDEs plans regarding educating unaccompanied children in public schools with parents so Im posting the following guidance memos for your info but again – I post just the facts, Im not here to debate.

Here is NYSEDs directive and explanation to school districts on how to handle immigrant and unaccompanied children:
USDEs letter and guidance policy on dealing with unaccompanied minors and laws regarding compulsory public education:
More USDE info on unaccompanied minors:

NYSEDs guidance document on unaccompanied and refugee children which discusses how NYS public schools should handle students with limited, no or interrupted education and special needs non english speaking learners among other things:

Hope this info has been helpful in providing some guidance on the subject of educating unaccompanied youth and refugee children in NYS public schools.


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