For months New York City has been grappling with an unexpected surge of asylum seekers arriving on buses from down South. Now the children of asylum seeking families are expected to begin enrolling on Sept. 8, amid budget cuts, larger class sizes, fewer arts programs, and fewer guidance counselors in many schools.

As of this week, the The Department of Education (DOE) said there are approximately 9,100 students between the ages of 3 and 17 currently in family shelters who are not yet enrolled in school. This figure does not include asylum seekers who have not entered or who have left the shelter system, said DOE. 

Additionally, there are approximately 13,600 students in family shelters that are enrolled. Most of the children enrolled so far are in grades K-6. DOE said that most asylum-seeking families are concentrated in School Districts 2, 3, 10, 14, 24, and 30. The DOE  added that for the safety of students they don’t ask families about immigration status or if they are seeking asylum, so the numbers are estimates and subject to change. 

New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) Senior Manager of Education Policy Andrea Ortiz said that it’s “exciting” to see the city embrace immigrants as they arrive.

On Aug. 19, Mayor Eric Adams announced Project Open Arms to help integrate asylum-seeking families being moved into shelters and temporary housing. The interagency collaborative plan promises comprehensive access to wraparound services on the first day of school for kids, including social-emotional learning and language-based support.

“Our city has been, and will always be, a city of immigrants that welcomes newcomers with open arms,” said Adams in a statement. “Project Open Arms ensures we are well-prepared to assist asylum-seekers as the school year begins and that we are offering wraparound services to students and families.”

Teams are coordinating with shelters to host pop-up Family Welcome Centers, where DOE staff assist families with the school enrollment process. They have promised to connect families with translators considering that an overwhelming majority of the people arriving are from Central and South America and English may not be their first language. The DOE also said programming and curricula “culturally and linguistically responsive” for incoming students.

“These refugees, no matter their nation of origin, share a destination, and a common goal––the pursuit of freedom, and a peaceful life for themselves and their families,” said Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse. 

“We must continue to fight to ensure that these individuals are welcomed and provided the resources to achieve their own American Dream as countless others who have settled in our great city have done before them. Let’s treat all refugees with the dignity they deserve, and give them the chance to succeed as this nation has given to countless others for many years,” she continued.

Ortiz said she has some concerns about the plan’s bilingual and counselor staffing going into the Fall and has encouraged the city to provide at least $500,000 in additional funding for language access and mental health resources for kids. Ortiz “doubts” that all the asylum seeking children will be enrolled by the beginning of the year, especially since documents aren’t required. 

She said that school placement in close proximity to the city shelter isn’t always the best idea for families either, when better services may be available at a school further away. And, Ortiz believes that schools could benefit from more training and security when it comes to ICE enforcement officers as well considering many of the arrivals are not inclined to trust the government or police.

Ida Munoz, an ESL teacher at PS 443 in the Bronx, also advocated for more bilingual teachers and counselors to accommodate the children. However, she thinks that most years these are the positions that are hardest to staff. Her school’s funding was cut, she said, resulting in the loss of certain coaches and teachers. Munoz imagines the larger class sizes will definitely impact the student’s education. 

“These kids are coming from somewhere else and they’re probably scared. They need to have a sense of security and knowing that they’re in a safe place in the classroom,” said Munoz. “So building that relationship with them first.”

Munoz wasn’t sure if her school would receive any asylum seeking children. She also felt like Adams and Banks didn’t spend enough time in classrooms seeing the real impacts of their decisions on a day to day basis. Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1

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