With Congress on its late-summer break and the Ferguson and ISIS issues dominating news coverage, the crisis on the Southern border has, for the moment, been relegated to back-burner status. Yet, short of any hard-and-fast determination of how to address the ongoing influx of illegal immigrants — particularly UACs (unaccompanied alien children) — the situation will continue to bubble and fester. And not just along the Rio Grande, but all across America, and especially anywhere these UACs have been “resettled.”
Currently, Virginia ranks fifth among states as a destination for these children. Of the roughly 37,000 UACs “resettled” nationwide since Jan. 1, 2,856 have been dispatched to Virginia. And more — many more — may be on their way, as an additional 25,000 apprehended since the start of the year have yet to be relocated, and 150,000 more are expected to find their way across the border in 2015.
The most immediate impact will be felt by local school systems obliged, by dint of federal and state law, to educate these children. Speaking to The Winchester Star earlier this month, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-10th, suspected that local governments were “not focusing” on the potential effects of this influx, to the point that school systems “will wake up” one day and suddenly hear the ticking of a budgetary time bomb. Basic educational costs, Mr. Wolf noted, are dear enough, but those associated with remediation — i.e., ESL instruction — render them even more so.
By now, with school already in session here and many other jurisdictions across the commonwealth, we must assume educators know what’s in store. As early as May 8 of this year, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a cadre of higher-ups in the U.S. Department of Education were already laying the groundwork in the form of directives informing local school districts of their legal obligations to accommodate these children. To be sure, back then, many of the UACs had yet to be “resettled,” so localities had little or no knowledge precisely which school districts would be affected.\
Nonetheless, there is some indication that, as recently as earlier this month, some school districts remained unaware of protocol relative to UACs. In response to an inquiry from one division about one unaccompanied child, the state DOE provided all state school districts what it called “updated information” on such matters. What the memo said registers as instructive, and perhaps a bit chilling — namely that many of the UACs will be classified as “homeless.”
What does this mean exactly? For one thing, that these children will be eligible for benefits — not just educational, but medical, dental, and mental health — under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 and that school districts must provide a liaison to assure they receive these benefits.
What’s more, these UACs must be “immediately” enrolled regardless of whether they can “produce the records” — including health and immunization information demanded of other students — “required for enrollment.”
Cause for concern? Without a doubt, particularly on the immunization front. School districts, we dare say, can withstand and absorb — and, hopefully, assimilate — a small number of these newcomers. But what of those districts faced with the influx of considerably more than a few?
For some educators and elected officials, this could prove a trying year, and one punctuated by this question: Where does it all end?