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Schools gear up for influx of 'undocumented minors'



August 05, 2014
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – As the flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America are relocated to communities across the country, Fulton County School System (FCSS) officials are keeping an eye on increased numbers of new enrollments for the coming school year.

While it appears most of the 1,100 Central American minors sent to Georgia have been relocated into rural Georgia towns, FCSS officials say they are not aware of any influx into local schools – yet.

"The highest number of unaccompanied minors is expected to be from Honduras, Nicaragua or Guatemala," said Susan Hale, spokesperson for the FCSS. "We've run a report to see if there have been any new enrollees listing those as a birth country, and so far there is only a handful—perhaps five – but those children were enrolled by parents."

She added there is no way to tell if any new students are "unaccompanied minors" – since reporting only indicates country of birth, not reason for enrolling.

"Even so, federal law protects a student's refugee status, so even if we did have unaccompanied minors, it not only would be difficult to identify them, but it would be unlawful to do so – even indirectly," she cautioned.

Hale said registration for the school year often ramps up at or near the start of the school year, so enrollment numbers generally fluctuate during the month of August.

As of July 7, about 30,000 of the more than 50,000 unaccompanied children here in the United States have been relocated to cities across the country. Georgia has so far received 1,154 – the ninth most among the 50 states.

One factor is evident as local systems prepare for an influx of unaccompanied minors. Most speak little or no English and will require extensive services to prepare them for schooling. In Whitfield County in north Georgia, a separate "academy" has been created to teach immigrants, many of them older teenagers, the skills typically taught in the elementary grades.

While the federal government mandates public school systems provide an education to all students, regardless of status, the federal government does not provide any funding to do so, outside of school nutrition programs and Title I funding, if applicable. This year, less than 1 percent of the entire FCSS revenue stream will come from the federal government.

Nine years ago after Hurricane Katrina, the FCSS enrolled more than 1,000 displaced students who were considered refugees from the storm. In that case, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed the FCSS nearly $4 million for their education needs.

That will not likely be the case for immigrant children coming over as unaccompanied minors, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources (HHR).

"The Unaccompanied Alien Children program pays for all services while a minor is in our custody, however once a minor is discharged from our program, we no longer have jurisdiction. Sponsors are responsible for all costs," said Kenneth J. Wolfe, a public affairs officer for HHR.

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