07-14-14: Local communities trying to deal with influx of illegal immigrant children
LYNN, Mass. (MyFoxBoston.com) -- Lynn is a municipality on the brink. Key department officials say a recent influx of illegal immigrant children and families in the city is stressing almost every service from trash collection to healthcare.
"We have been aware of the unaccompanied children issue for quite a while, and we were able to absorb a lot of these children early on," said Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy. "But now it's gotten to the point where the school system is overwhelmed, our health department is overwhelmed, the city's budget is being sustainably altered in order of accommodate all of these admissions in the school department."
Flanagan Kennedy says the first contact for immigrant arrivals in the city is the school system.
The amount of new foreign born student admissions has nearly doubled in the last two years. This school year alone saw more than 600 new admissions. Among those students, 248 were from Guatemala. Flanagan Kennedy says of those 248 children, 126 were illegal, undocumented minors.
"They are not literate in any language, so they do need some skills. And I assume they are enrolling in school to receive those skills," said Catherine Latham, Lynn's superintendent of schools
Latham says me the increase in new students has created overcrowding, forced her to hire more staff, and has impacted state testing scores and drop-out numbers.
Latham says that because of the age of some students, reportedly between 16 and 20 years old, they were placed in the ninth grade. Twenty years old is the cut off for high school entrants.
But a report by the National Review Online claims at least two illegal immigrant students in Lynn who claimed to be minors are actually much older adults. That article names two people who were released to family members in Lynn by federal officials.
In a statement to FOX 25 about the article, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) said, "To focus on a tiny minority of outliers in this group is to risk performing a grave disservice to these young people in need."
"We have no proof that they are much older. So they will come to school. They came, I believe in April or May and enrolled usually in the system as ninth graders," Latham said. "Many of them do two years in the ninth grade."
Though it's difficult, school administrators do attempt to verify a student's age.
"But we are limited by the law," Latham said.
The law states Lynn schools cannot deny enrollment to anybody solely on the basis of not having paperwork. The law also says students have to be vaccinated.
And if any student doesn't have insurance, the city of Lynn picks up the tab for administering the injections.
Public Health Director MaryAnn O'Connor said she estimates the department has seen a 200 percent increase in vaccinations over the last couple years. O'Connor has also had to hire two additional part-time staff members and had to start a tuberculosis clinic for a huge spike in cases over the last two years.
It's created a percent increase in her budget.
"We have line items that we're borrowing from in the health department's budget in order to meet this immediate demand, but somewhere down the line, I'm going to have to deal with finding the money to replace that which has been taken out," Mayor Flanagan Kennedy said.
The mayor also says the solution is to stem the flow of illegal unaccompanied minors coming into her city on a federal level, and provide federal assistance to ease budget constraints.
"The way this is going, Lynn looks like a microcosm of the United States, in that we have been filled to capacity and we can't take anymore without having the people who are already here suffer," she said.