NJ migrant children face new barrier: school

One at a time, Maria Vasquez’s children crossed the treacherous border into the U.S.

They were fleeing violence and poverty in Guatemala and lured to New Jersey with the prospect of getting reunified with their mother in Union County and start a new life.


Two of Maria’s children crossed the frontier all by themselves, alone, and as unaccompanied minors.

The children got caught by U.S. Border Patrol officers, who sent them on to New Jersey, where they soon encountered a new barrier: sign up for public school!

Maria Vasquez’ children are two of the more than 5000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that were placed with sponsor families in New Jersey by the federal government since end 2013.

An estimated seventy children are staying in various communities in Monmouth County, but the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement is not reporting counties where under fifty migrant children got resettled, such as Ocean County.

Across America, there are more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors staying with sponsor families. They are expected to go to school while seeking legal status in a U.S. Immigration Court.

Bear in mind that these numbers do NOT include minors who did cross the border by themselves, but without being caught by Border Patrol.

The schools in America are among very few government institutions that provide guaranteed services to migrant youth, but federal funds to monitor if that actually also happens, are not in place, partly because schools are generally locally governed.

After illegal border crossings surged dramatically in 2013, federal justice and education officials were issuing joint reminders to school districts pointing out that a Supreme Court ruling from 1982 was clear: states are not allowed to deny children public education for free, regardless of their immigration status.

Every year, the NJ Department of Education sends notices to school district and charter schools about enrolling unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant and homeless children, and they also offer special resources and training programs.

According to Alexander Shalom, American Civil Liberties senior staff attorney in New Jersey is how schools deal with enrolling undocumented immigrant children varying among districts, regardless of whether these kids crossed the border alone or not.

There are schools where they are welcomed in and where registration is no problem, says Shalom, but there are also districts where there’s more resistance, especially in those districts where more migrant children are resettling.

Handle traumas without schooling? 

Central American kids that cross the U.S. border all by themselves. are often running away from poverty, violence, or abuse. When the U.S. Border Patrol picks these children up, they will be placed in a special children detention facility tilt they can be released to a sponsor, which can be a family friend, a close relative, or a caring family, where they can await their immigration hearing.

Catholic Charities is an organization that is helping the U.S. government to assess adult sponsors when migrant children show signs of any trauma. Many children have been abused, sexually abused, says  Carmen Pagan, Catholic Charities director of Ocean Community Services in Lakewood.

What these children had to through is often beyond comprehension, terrible. Some of these children’s parents got killed by gangs wanting their money or their homes, some are escaping gang recruitment, and other children again tell stories about sexual abuse that go beyond imagination. Pagan is helping to ensure these migrant children receive proper care and to ensure they’ll get the attention, counseling, healthcare, and schooling that they deserve and need.