Back to School: New York City has “Open Arms,” but Little Else to Offer
FAIR Take | September 2023
Last Wednesday, students returned to class in the nation’s largest public school system. For 21,000 migrant kids, speaking dozens of different languages, it was their first day in any New York City public school.
In what was simultaneously the understatement of the year and an admission of gross malfeasance, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul described the influx of unregistered, unvaccinated, and educationally unprepared students as “an unexpected challenge” for her state. Seriously, with 107,000 illegal migrants (and counting) flooding into the city, who could possibly have anticipated the impact it would have on the public schools?
Certainly not New York City’s Department of Education (DOE), which had no plan to enroll all the new migrants, much less a plan to educate them once they showed up. The best the DOE could muster was a 415-word memo to school administrators and faculty, pretentiously dubbed “Project Open Arms.” For all the guidance it provided, DOE could have saved 413 words by simply wishing them “good luck.”
In some communities where migrants are being sheltered “thousands of students rushed toward the [local school] building” as parents attempted to enroll their kids on the first day of school.” At another school, there were “lines of students wrapping around the corner and people on cellphones using Google Translate to communicate” with overwhelmed DOE personnel attempting to register all the newcomers.
At Newcomers High School in Queens – which, as its name suggests, was established to accommodate newly-arrived migrant students – the problem was not just a lack of planning, but a lack of physical space. Newcomers High shares a building with Gotham Tech High School, and Gotham students were literally pushed out of their building to accommodate the migrants. “The Gotham students are being pushed out to a facility across the street that the principal will be walking them over to this afternoon in groups,” complained one teacher. “Gotham only has three classrooms [in the building] as of right now, I think.”
The sad spectacle playing in front of schools all across New York City last week (and likely to continue into the coming weeks) will no doubt attract media attention and add to the already considerable finger-pointing that is taking place. But what must not be overlooked is that this debacle is a reminder of the very reason we have immigration laws and why they must be enforced. Immigration laws exist to protect the interests of society, and when they are willfully ignored by federal and local government officials, everyone suffers – particularly those who can least afford it.
When the federal government opens our borders and invites millions of people to abuse our immigration laws and asylum system, and virtue-signaling local governments declare themselves to be sanctuaries for illegal aliens, those acts come with enormous responsibilities. They represent millions of people who require, among other things, a place to live and education for their kids.
Not only is New York City failing to provide these basics, it is also failing everyone else in the city. Over the past five years, 120,000 children have left the New York City public school system (and not just because of the impact of immigration). These are the kids whose families have the resources to relocate, or to send them to private schools. The kids who are left are the ones without options.
DOE will eventually figure out how to enroll all the migrants and provide them with desks and essential school supplies. What it won’t be able to do is provide New York City public school students – migrants or native-born – with an education. The department’s own 415-word memo to teachers makes it clear that they will have little or no hope of even being able to communicate with the thousands of migrant students, speaking myriad different languages, much less teach them anything. At the same time, their American classmates – largely from disadvantaged families – will fall further behind.
In the words of 14-year-old George Kara Lekas, a Gotham Tech student who got booted from his classroom on the first day of school, “They gave us crap!” And, pointing to the long line of migrant students filling up his school building, he added, “Yeah, it’s because of this!”