Grand Island school district says it's dealing with influx of unaccompanied immigrant children


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GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska — A few of the more than 52,000 immigrant children fleeing poverty and violence but caught crossing alone into the United States since October apparently have been reunited with parents or other relatives in Grand Island.

Several unaccompanied minors have been attending local schools for several years, but district Welcome Center coordinator Joanne Garrison told The Grand Island Independent (http://bit.ly/1k6foCy ) that she found an influx last year after she tallied the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America. There were 51 such children at the end of the school year.

The Welcome Center conducts a language assessment of all immigrant children to determine their proper placement for English language learner services.

The pull to Grand Island is parents living here, said Garrison. She said only a minority of them come to Grand Island to live with an uncle or aunt, a sibling or another family member.

"The years of separation (from parents) range from a low of two years to a high of 15 years," Garrison said. "The high end of that range is the more common situation."

Kris Schneider, director of English language learner and migrant student services, said the family separations prompted Grand Island officials to track the unaccompanied minors in the district's schools. Family reunification does not always go smoothly after so many years apart, and that can affect a child's school performance.

"The parents thought they were doing the best thing for their kids," Schneider said.

The district also tracks the unaccompanied minors because about a quarter of them didn't go to schools in their home countries.

Public schools don't ask students about their immigration status, Schneider said. But if the children fall under the auspices of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, eventually they must appear before a federal immigration judge to determine whether they will be deported.

"It's against the law for them not to be in school" in the meantime, Schneider said.


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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