Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal Announce Unprecedented City Educational and Health Support for Unaccompanied Migrant Children at the NYC Federal Immigration Court

September 16, 2014

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene respond to the arrival of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America by providing first-ever direct services to children and families at the NYC Immigration Court

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal announced today that the City is stationing representatives at the federal immigration court to directly address the needs of unaccompanied minor children undergoing deportation proceedings. Since the second week of August, the NYC Immigration Court—already among the busiest in the country—has been holding special daily juvenile dockets to prioritize the court hearings for recently arrived child migrants. This is the first time New York City has ever provided direct services at the immigration court.

Representatives from the Department of Education (DOE) will be based at the court to assist children and their guardians with school enrollment and to provide them with information about programs for English Language Learners. Additionally, representatives from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) will help children enroll in Child Health Plus, a state-funded public health insurance program and provide links to other health services for which the children may be eligible. The Health and Hospital Corporation (HHC) will treat all children referred for their medical and mental health needs. 

“Connecting these vulnerable children to educational, health and social services is vital to helping our families and communities gain stability,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “These children have come here because they have families or sponsors in New York City, and it is our responsibility to assist them. States and municipalities must do all they can to help their immigrant communities—and we hope New York City’s response helps model a more humanitarian approach at these dockets to provide these children with stability and safety.”

“Every child has a right to a great education, and we are committed to providing these children who have escaped violence back home with the academic foundation and access to services that they need in order to establish a path to long-term achievement,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “We are united across City agencies to support the unique needs of these students so they can thrive both in the classroom and beyond.”

“The immigration court offers the City an opportunity to intersect with traditionally hard-to-reach populations,” said Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs. “Whereas in other jurisdictions, these special dockets for unaccompanied children have become a rapid deportation pipeline, in New York we are taking a different approach and providing critical support services for the children, alongside legal services providers who are doing heroic work to ensure these children have high-quality legal counsel.”
   
“These vulnerable youth have arrived here in New York facing extraordinary obstacles and grave uncertainty, hoping only for help in the search for their families and guardians and a path to a better life,” said State Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver. “With today’s committee hearing as the first of many steps, the Assembly is committed to finding the best way to assist these children as they embark on this difficult journey. I commend Mayor de Blasio for taking swift, proactive steps in connecting them to the appropriate resources, providers and services. Working together, we can make New York a just and safe community for these children as they seek a brighter future.”

“As an attorney who has worked with Legal Aid Society, I recognize the incredible effect representation can have on court outcomes, and I am so proud to be working with legal assistance and youth services organizations to protect these at-risk youth,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “We cannot rob innocent children of the intervention and support they need in an effort to expedite immigration proceedings. I commend the administration and Commissioner Nisha Agarwal on placing representatives at federal immigration court to address the needs of these children.”

“As Washington allows a broken immigration system to remain the status quo, the New York City Council renews its commitment to addressing challenges for undocumented families,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This is why we fully support the City’s efforts to provide unaccompanied minors with health and education services, instead of leaving them alone and isolated in immigration courts.”

The initiative is a key recommendation of the interagency task force commissioned by the Mayor and formed by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), in response to the rising number of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America, many of whom have been placed with families or other guardians in New York City. The task force includes representatives from DOE, DOHMH, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), and other City agencies who have been working together closely to coordinate resources and formulate a citywide response. 

The City has also been closely working with nonprofit legal service providers, including the Legal Aid Society, Catholic Charities Community Services, The Door, Safe Passage Project at New York Law School, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, to ensure that high-quality legal screenings, referrals and free representation are offered to these children at the Immigration Court.

The task force’s immediate goals are:

  • Target neighborhoods and schools for outreach. The DOE continues to identify neighborhoods with students from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador who were enrolled in 2013 and 2014. 
  • City agencies will be based at schools to assist with school and health insurance enrollment, legal screenings and referrals, and to provide families with information and connect them to services.
  • Produce a comprehensive guide of resources and referral information on legal, medical, mental health, and social services for City agencies and service providers to use to locate appropriate help for these children.

When unaccompanied child migrants arrive in the United States, they first encounter Department of Homeland Security officials, who perform an initial health check and an immigration screening to begin the deportation process and give a “credible fear” interview, to determine whether a child may have an asylum or other legal claim to remain in the U.S. They are then transferred to the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters and facilities operated by private child welfare organizations, where they are temporarily held until they can be placed with family members or other sponsors.

According to the latest data released by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, approximately 1,350 child migrants have been placed with family members or other sponsors in New York City in the first seven months of 2014.  That figure includes 587 children in Queens, 362 in Brooklyn, 347 in the Bronx, 54 in Manhattan, and fewer than 50 in Staten Island. Long Island has received 2,277, and several hundred have been placed in counties in the lower Hudson Valley.

A preliminary assessment by the interagency taskforce indicates that the services to be provided to these children will be covered under existing agency functions and budgets, without the need for additional spending. These children are currently eligible for a range of existing government services, including school enrollment and educational support, free or sliding-scale health care at public hospitals and clinics, state-funded Child Health Plus health insurance, and family counseling services.

“I want to commend Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Department of Education, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for providing critical services to unaccompanied children who have come to the United States in search of freedom,” said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. “These children have the right to enroll in public school and in Child Health Plus, a health insurance program, and to have the assistance of attorneys in any legal proceedings. Today, the City of New York has committed itself to securing these rights.”

“The United States has long stood with those fleeing persecution and violence around the world, and this situation should be no different,” said Congressman Joe Crowley. “These children have endured unimaginable struggle and danger to come here for the chance at not just a better life, but a chance at life at all. They are scared and in need, and I applaud the City for welcoming them with empathy and support.”

“As a father, my heart goes out to all of the unaccompanied children making the perilous trek from Central America to the United States,” said Congressman Elliot Engel. “Some of my colleagues in Congress have responded to the large influx of children arriving in our country by calling for harsher enforcement of our immigration laws. Cracking down on children is clearly not the answer. I commend the Mayor’s effort to provide direct services to these children and families in need, and I hope that his initiative is replicated throughout the country.”

“New York City has always been a gateway of opportunity for the tired, poor and huddled masses as emblazoned on the Statute of Liberty,” said Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. “It is therefore fitting that the under the leadership of our Mayor, the administration will work closely with the federal immigration court to better address the needs of unaccompanied minors in the midst of deportation proceedings.”

“I applaud Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal for their strong leadership in acting to protect children fleeing from those who seek to do them harm. New York is a city of immigrants and, at the very least, we must be able to help those children who are the most in need,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler. “We must stand with our immigrant communities, both because is the right thing to do, and because it is what has made our city—and our nation—one of the greatest on earth. To turn vulnerable children away from our shores and back to the violence in Central America is both un-American and unjust.”

“While children are in New York City waiting for their cases to be processed, we need to make sure that they are receiving appropriate education, health care, and social services,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. “I am glad that New York is serving as a model for the nation by coming up with an innovative, comprehensive plan.”

“I applaud the Mayor for placing the well-being of the kids first. I am proud that our City is providing the protections and basic needs of these innocent children, who have been put in the present situation at no fault of their own,” said Congressman Charles Rangel. “In Congress, I will keep fighting for comprehensive immigration reform that will allow America to remain a welcoming nation of immigrants and a land of opportunity for everyone, regardless of their origin, to achieve the American Dream.”

“With this unprecedented initiative, New York City is taking the lead and serving as an example to other major cities who are seeing a large influx of unaccompanied minors,” said Congressman José E. Serrano. “One of the main challenges that unaccompanied minors face when they arrive in this country is accessing health and education services and navigating the system without help and support.  For the first time in New York City’s history, the City government will provide direct social services to unaccompanied minors and their families at the immigration court to help ensure a smooth transition. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for his leadership in this issue and look forward to seeing the positive impact this initiative will have in the stability of our city and of our families.” 

“It is incumbent on all of us to ensure these vulnerable children are cared for and their rights are respected,” said Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez. “I’m pleased to see City agencies working in concert to assist these young people.”

“While undocumented children across the country have been left to fend for themselves, New York City is stepping up to ensure these kids are cared for,” said Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat. “U.S. foreign policy is directly responsible for this crisis; we have a moral obligation to assist young immigrants who have fled their homes. These children desperately need access to healthcare, education and other services, and I commend Mayor de Blasio for taking action.”

“These children have come to our City to reconnect with family members in an effort to escape atrocious living conditions. I commend Mayor de Blasio and his administration for addressing this situation as the humanitarian crisis it is and ensuring that these vulnerable children receive the educational, health and social services that they need,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “We are a city and country of immigrants and ensuring that these vulnerable children have access to the resources they need will only make our city stronger. We need to address the issues surrounding immigration in ways that are effective, meet our economic and social needs, and honor our values as New Yorkers and this new policy is a step in the right direction.”  

“During this humanitarian crisis, while others have been quick to dismiss the gravity and needs of these children, the de Blasio administration and Commissioner Agarwal are demonstrating outstanding leadership, and running into the fire to help families in need,” said Chair of the Assembly Task Force on New Americans Assembly Member Marcos Crespo. “This initiative will accelerate the process of connecting these children with available and needed educational and healthcare resources. I suggest other jurisdictions learn from this and emulate this approach.”

“I commend the administration for their leadership in the face of this humanitarian crisis. It underscores the importance of connecting some of our most vulnerable children to the many resources our City agencies offer,” said Chair of City Council Immigration Committee Carlos Menchaca. “We must also continue to address this crisis with increased cultural competence in order to meet the needs of this community where they live and where they go to school. I will continue to advocate for more legal services for these children as we move forward.”

“Helping unaccompanied children transition to life here is very important to their safety and well-being,” said Chair of City Council Education Committee Council Member Daniel Dromm.  “I am pleased that Mayor de Blasio has taken a strong moral stance on this issue. By ensuring these young people readily obtain the education and health services they need, this City has reaffirmed its leading role in responding to immigrant needs, especially during this humanitarian situation.”

“It is imperative that every child who lives in New York City have access to the health services and education they depend on,” said Chair of City Council General Welfare Committee Council Member Stephen Levin. “By connecting these especially vulnerable children to services, we are doing what is right and helping to ensure that they can succeed long-term. I want to thank Mayor de Blasio and his Administration for working collaboratively to find solutions for unaccompanied migrant children.”

“The Health Department is proud to support Mayor de Blasio and The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to ensure that undocumented minor children at NYC Immigration Court have access to necessary health and social services,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. “After traveling to America from their home countries, these children are often in dire need of basic human services, including health care. By connecting them to care under Child Health Plus, New York City is once again leading the charge in repairing barriers in our broken immigration system.”

“For decades, HHC has served the most vulnerable amongst us, regardless of their means, especially new immigrants to New York City,” said President and CEO of the Health and Hospitals Corporation Dr. Ram Raju. “Working with our sister City agencies and other partners, HHC will ensure these children access to comprehensive quality health care services at our clinics and hospitals and connect them to a pediatric medical home.”

Over the coming months, the interagency task force will also be launching weekend screenings at selected public schools to provide assistance with school and health insurance enrollment, and provide legal screenings, mental health referrals and other social services.
Government services available to children in New York City, regardless of immigration status, include:

  • School enrollment
  • After-school programs
  • Public health insurance through Children’s Medicaid or Child Health Plus, unless household income exceeds certain limits
  • Free or low-cost primary and specialist health care services through the City’s HHC Options program, unless household income exceeds certain limits
  • Child and family welfare services through NYC Administrative for Children’s Services
  • Homelessness prevention services through NYC Department of Homeless Services
  • Literacy programs through NYC Department of Youth and Community Development
pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov

(212) 788-2958