Immigrant rights advocates called on the city’s Department of Education to ensure children from asylum-seeking families who are set to start classes at New York City public schools on Sept. 8 are given the resources to succeed.

“The city must increase access to trained interpreters at enrollment centers and shelters, because promptly enrolling students is crucial to ensure that they do not suffer from additional learning gaps,” said Andrea Ortiz, senior manager of education policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, speaking at a press conference on Thursday.

City officials estimated that 7,600 asylum seekers have arrived in recent months from South and Central America, including hundreds who have arrived on buses chartered by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The city’s Department of Education said these numbers include at least 1,000 children who would be starting school next week, many from countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, and Ecuador.

The city must increase access to trained interpreters at enrollment centers and shelters, because promptly enrolling students is crucial to ensure that they do not suffer from additional learning gaps.
Andrea Ortiz, senior manager of education policy at the New York Immigration Coalition

Ortiz said it was critical that Spanish-speaking children and their parents were given language access and provided with school meals as well as mental health resources, given that many had experienced displacement and significant trauma during their journey.

“We hope they can meet the moment,” Ortiz said of school officials, “as the lives of these children are on the line.”

Last month, school officials said kids, ranging from 3 years old to high- school age, would be enrolled in schools throughout the city and offered specialized language assistance, pediatric care, academic help, and mental health resources.

“Our public schools are prepared to welcome families seeking asylum with open arms,” Chancellor David Banks said in a statement. “Our city has always stood with those in need of refuge and shelter.”

Education department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer said the school system was in a good position to absorb the new students due to declining enrollment.

“We've lost 120,000 students over the last five years,” Styer said. “These students will be going to schools that are under-enrolled. And whenever there are new needs, we have money available for those new needs.”

Liza Schwartzwald, senior manager of education policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said on Thursday that in addition to improving social intelligence and academic achievement, access to early education had long-term benefits, “by reducing teen pregnancy, criminal behavior, and dependency on welfare.”

Under Abbott, who is engaged in a tight race with Democrat and former congressman Beto O’Rourke, Texas has spent nearly $13 million busing migrants to East Coast cities. Abbott has used the migrant controversy to amplify his criticisms of President Joe Biden’s handling of border security.