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Migrant children are coming to Long Island to be resettled

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y.
Alex Brandon

More than 2,500 unaccompanied minors have been relocated to shelters and the homes of family sponsors in New York City suburbs in the past year, including Connecticut and Long Island. About 50 more migrant children were brought to a shelter in Syosset, after some early morning flights at a Westchester airport this week.

“Immigrant kids, they are terrified. They are afraid to leave,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY). ”They are afraid to do anything.”

Suozzi visited MercyFirst, Long Island’s only shelter for children in the custody of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, on Tuesday. MercyFirst is a temporary 100-bed facility, which means the shelter has 50 days to relocate children to a family sponsor. The shelter also housed migrant children who were separated from their parents by the Trump administration.

“We need to know what’s going on, and we need to figure out how to get some money to our school districts to help deal with this,” said Suozzi, who added that school districts are not reporting that they are seeing an influx in students yet.

He said the total number of migrant children set to attend schools on Long Island is unclear. However, Suozzi said the additional cost of schooling these children could be around $62 million that local school boards cannot cover without additional federal aid.

“They give us general countywide number for Nassau, Suffolk and Queens but not specific school district numbers,” Suozzi said.

The U.S. refugee office has been relocating thousands of children in its custody across the country in recent weeks. Federal policy mandates that unaccompanied minors coming across the southern border be placed with family members or sponsors.

“It wasn’t being done surreptitiously, even though I am very angry and frustrated that I wasn’t advised ahead of time,” Suozzi said, referring to reports this week that children arrived from Texas to “places throughout the tri-state region.”

Reports also place these children at shelters and with family sponsors in Bridgeport and Danbury in Connecticut. WSHU has reached out to Governor Ned Lamont’s office for comment.

In a White House briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed the flights to Westchester County Airport. She said they were “en route to their final destination to be reunified with their parents or vetted sponsor.”

U.S. Rep Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is running for governor, blasted the Biden administration for what he called “covert” flights.

"The shadiness and lack of transparency from the Biden administration is completely unacceptable," Zeldin said. "We have no concrete information about what sort of vetting these migrants have gone through, why they are being relocated, where they will stay, who was involved in this decision-making process and so much more."

Psaki emphasized that the administration is legally obligated to care for children. She also confirmed the children were going to several states, not just New York.

“It is our legal responsibility to safely care for unaccompanied children until they can be swiftly unified with a parent or a vetted sponsor and that’s something we take seriously,” Psaki said.

When it comes to caring for the hundreds of migrant children already placed with family sponsors, a House bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) on Long Island, would authorize new federal funding to support local school districts educating unaccompanied migrant children.

Federal law requires that all children, regardless of immigration status, receive an elementary and secondary education, but Garbarino said school districts, like Freeport and Hempstead, do not get additional federal aid when these students arrive.

“It should be the federal government who picks up the tab for educating these children once they are here, not Long Island taxpayers,” Garbarino said in a statement. “While it is imperative that we address the unprecedented border crossings we have seen in recent months, this bill is a commonsense solution to ensure that the influx of migrants does not place any further burden on our public schools.”

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.