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Long Island Child Refugees from Central America a Year Later

Last year the arrival of Central American refugee children at the southern border set off political shockwaves. Fox News tried to tie the children to ISIS and Ebola. The Immigration Courts created the so-called “Rocket Docket” to speed up proceedings to remove the children from the United States. Schools on Long Island tried to exclude them from an education.

Now that the hysteria has died down, we can take a look at what has and has not happened in the year after the influx began.

First, and most importantly, the children have not been denied their right to a day in court. The House of Representatives wanted to take away due process from the children, but the Senate and President Obama said “No.” The Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which provides them with due process protections,  was not repealed. This was an important victory for the immigrant rights movement as well as for all people concerned with the defense of human rights.

Secondly, the efforts by school districts on Long Island and elsewhere to prevent the young refugees from receiving an education have been largely defeated. Schools in Westbury, Hempstead and other districts were refusing to register hundreds of the children as recently as October. When the New York Immigration Coalition and other groups took up the cause of the children, the State Education Department ordered the schools to end their discriminatory practices. The New York State Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into the denial of this important civil right.

The influx of refugee children last year was felt particularly on Long Island. While 495 of the children went to the Bronx, 535 went to Brooklyn, 77 to Manhattan, and 902 to Queens, Nassau received 1,446 and Suffolk led the state with 1,600 children. Long Island has the fifth largest Central American community in the country and it received the third largest number of children. Although some Nassau and Suffolk elected officials tried to stigmatize the young refugees, many Long Islanders reached out to help them.

Finally, the number of children arriving from Central America has declined rapidly over the last six months. In fact the number of new arrivals was down by 58% in April of this year v. the April of 2014. The drop in Nassau and Suffolk has been even more dramatic.

Nationally, 53,518 children were placed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement last year. This year, that number fell to only 10,224 for the first half of the fiscal year.

It would be nice to think that the decline was due to improvements in human rights conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but in fact children in those countries are as at-risk now as they were in 2014. Increased interdiction of the children by Mexican authorities as they try to come north appears to be the biggest factor. 

Patrick Young is an attorney at the Central American Refugee Center.


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