Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the federal government has been silent about undocumented immigrants disappearing from city schools because they’ve been detained by authorities.
City records show 466 child immigrants who arrived in New York as unaccompanied minors after crossing the border have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement between October and March.
It’s a gigantic increase over fiscal year 2016, when just 24 such minors were detained by ICE.
City officials said they first noticed the phenomenon when the teens started disappearing from schools.
But Carranza said school administrators were never notified.
“A lot of this is very quietly, I would say, unfortunately, surreptitiously done. And there’s been no communication with us in the public school system about any, any of this issue,” Carranza said.
Hundreds of children who entered the country as unaccompanied minors – who are held in the custody of Office of Refugee Resettlement in foster-care like settings – have been detained by ICE, some because they were re-arrested, but many simply because they turned 18 in the refugee agency’s custody.
Bitta Mostofi, the city’s commissioner of immigrant affairs, told the Daily News she first became aware of the problem when some 18-year-old students stopped showing up to school because they were shuttled to ICE jails.
Carranza said Thursday he wasn’t aware of public school students being detained.
“I don’t know of any,” he said. “And my staff is actually doing inquiries now to try to find out what is really happening.”
At the same time, more and more migrants are arriving in New York City after being separated from their parents at the border and classified as unaccompanied minors.
“The mayor yesterday mentioned he was going to what is a detention facility in East Harlem,” Carranza said “We didn’t even know that.”
ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow said the families of arrested immigrant students are responsible for notifying schools when students are detained, even if students came to the city as unaccompanied minors.
“I am unaware of any policy requiring notification to a school of the arrest of an enrolled student,” Yong Yow said. “That would be the responsibility of a parent/guardian.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement is responsible for providing services to unaccompanied minors in its care, including education.
Some of those children attend school at an ORR facility – but children in longer-term placements through ORR foster care programs enroll in city public schools, the city said.
It’s those children who, when they turned 18 and were detained by, stopped showing up.
“They’re taken to a jail that’s something very different than what ORR offers, which is a social services provider,” Anthony Enriquez, director of the Unaccompanied Minors Program at Catholic Charities, said.
“The experience is night and day, it’s a child who for some reason had been deemed low enough of a flight risk or not a safety or flight risk at all, such that they could be in the community in a foster home, they could attend a New York City public school — and nothing has changed. And now they’re being detained.”
Other children released by ORR to family sponsors would also be able to enroll in city schools. While they would not be transferred to ICE custody on their 18th birthday, they might end up in ICE detention if they are rearrested by ICE for other reasons – which legal providers say are often dubious.
There are no ICE detention facilities in the city , but there are ICE jails in northern New Jersey, where many of the children wind up – even though the agency is legally supposed to seek the least restrictive setting. While judges usually set bail for the children to leave, few can afford it.
Once they’re in ICE detention, not only have they disappeared from school and the community – it gets harder for their attorneys to represent them, Enriquez said. They are farther away, difficult to reach, and can’t assist in their defense by doing things like tracking down relatives or birth certificates.
“The most important thing is the child’s sense of desperation that happens (from) all of a sudden one day being trapped in a jail cell, when nothing else has changed in her life,” Enriquez said.
The desperation to leave jail makes many kids wants to give up trying to stay in the country, he said. They tell him things like: “I can’t do this, I didn’t know that I was going to be in jail — this is not like it was before and I didn’t do anything wrong. Should I just give up?”