Safe Passage Attorney, Luisa Lebron Participates in Press Conference Calling for Funding to Support Long Island Schools and Recent Child Arrivals

Luisa at Press Conference

Advocates call on New York State to provide support for Long Island’s schools with newly arrived immigrant populations. Standing together left to right: Patrick Young, program director at CARECEN: Steven Choi, executive director of New York Immigration Coalition; James Clark, Office of Curriculum and Instruction, Hempstead Public Schools; Jason Starr, Nassau county director, New York Civil Liberties Union; Luisa Lebron, staff attorney, Safe Passage; Gwen O’Shea, president, Health and Welfare Council of Long Island.

PRESS RELEASE: Long Island Community Leaders Call for Urgent Funding to Support Schools and Recent Child Arrivals; Announce June 4th Day of Action

In Mineola, Long Island today, local community leaders and advocates came together with public school representatives to call on Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature to provide $11.5 million to support school districts with increased immigrant student enrollment, and to help students receive mental health and legal services. Since 2014, an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 immigrant children, most fleeing violence in parts of Central America, have relocated to New York State, many settling with family members on Long Island.  With Long Island’s school districts seeing an increase in a new ESL population, they have been struggling to meet the needs of all students, including recently-arrived immigrants.

Advocates, including the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, the New York Immigration Coalition, Safe Passage Project, and New York Civil Liberties Union, joined by Hempstead Public Schools, announced a June 4th “Day of Action” where local community leaders, parents and schools will urge their legislators – through calls and letters – to deliver now on this critical funding.

“Ever child should have access to a high-quality education, and in order for Long Island’s schools to provide this to their expanding school population, they need the full support of New York State,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “Together with Long Island’s school districts and partners, we appeal to New York State to pass legislation to provide $11.5 million in critical support to Long Island’s schools and communities, including those who have taken in recently-arrived immigrant children. This money can help schools immensely – allowing them to hire new bi-lingual teachers, provide more educational support for all, and help students get the mental health and legal services they need to thrive and prosper. With the end of the legislative session fast approaching, we call for action now.”

Advocates noted that $10 million of the requested funding would go to school districts with large increases in immigrant student enrollment to help provide quality education for all students. An additional $1.5 million would expand access, particularly in under-resourced areas like Long Island, to mental health and legal services. The vast majority of these recently-arrived immigrant children on Long Island qualify for relief under current immigration laws, and many have endured serious trauma. This funding ensures that receiving communities, schools, and recently arrived immigrant children are being fully supported.  

Advocates at today’s press conference stressed that Long Island’s immigrant students want to learn, excel and thrive like all students, and that New York State must step up to provide these young people with that opportunity.

“The Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA) is committed to providing a high quality education to all students,” said Elias Mestizo, HCTA president. “As a Union we have made a commitment to find ways to ensure that students needs are met in an educational environment conducive to teaching and learning.  Newly arrived students to the United States who have enrolled in the school system have the same needs as every other student.  They need high qualified and competent teachers, instructional resources, social and emotional support, functional classrooms, and much more; however, a school district cannot give all the necessary supports based on schools budgets that have been left to the bare minimum.  We are asking the New York State legislature and the Governor to help school Districts and teachers meet students needs by allocating the proper funds to cover the educational needs of students who are working very hard to transition into a new environment, culture and language.”

“The New York Civil Liberties Union has joined advocates across the state to ensure that school districts are promptly registering and enrolling all students without delay, including newly-arrived immigrant students,” said Jason Starr, Nassau Chapter Director, New York Civil Liberties Union. “But these districts need support to provide a high quality education, including resources for more staff, classroom materials, professional development for teachers of English language learners, and supportive services. We call on our state’s elected leaders to provide the additional funding necessary to ensure that all students receive the quality education that they deserve.”

“Safe Passage Project meets around 20-25 newly arrived immigrant children every week in Immigration Court. We have found that 75% to 80% of the children qualify for Immigration relief under United States Immigration Law and at least one-half of these children reside in Long Island,” said Megan Eiss-Proctor, staff member at Safe Passage Project. “We urge the State legislature to take action and fund both legal services for immigrant children and resources for schools to adequately help them. This is an investment in our collective future. These young people will be able to secure immigration status and ensuring their access to quality education helps us build a strong community. We applaud the efforts of the New York Immigration Coalition and others to raise awareness about the needs of immigrant children living in Long Island and the communities around them.&rdqu o;

“While Long Island has become home to newly arriving children for decades, current chaotic situations abroad has led to a greater number of new community members. In this circumstance, there are children arriving who have experienced violence and trauma beyond what most of us can imagine,” said Gwen O’Shea, President & CEO of Health & Welfare Cuncil of Long Island. “Coming from countries that are in the top five of the most murderous in the world, they arrive to Long Island in desperate need of safety and services so that they can successfully integrate with their family into new educational and home environments. Long Island’s health and human service providers are aiming to do what we always do- coalesce and partner to meet the basic human needs and mental health needs of the most at-risk and vulnerable amongst us.”

With a month left in the legislative session, advocates vowed to ramp up the pressure on the State’s leaders who can act to improve school districts’ abilities to support their students through passage of this funding.

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The New York Immigration Coalition is an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for nearly 200 groups in New York State that work with immigrants and refugees.The NYIC aims to achieve a fairer and more just society that values the contributions of immigrants and extends opportunity to all by promoting immigrants’ full civic participation, fostering their leadership, and providing a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities.

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