141 unaccompanied immigrant children now in Delaware

By Matt Bittle
Delaware State News

Updated September 16, 2014

DOVER — A total of 141 unaccompanied immigrant children were placed with families or organizations in Delaware between Jan. 1 and July 31, new data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows.

Of that total, 114 are in Sussex County. Because the Department of Health and Human Services did not release data of counties that contained fewer than 50 children, it is unknown exactly how many minors are in New Castle or Kent.

Approximately 63,000 children from Central America have entered the country illegally since October. Due to a 2008 law that prevents the turning-away of immigrants from countries other than Canada and Mexico, they must be housed and cared for while awaiting a deportation hearing.

With many immigration facilities overcrowded, tens of thousands of children — 37,477 in total from Jan. 1 to July 31 — have been sent to sponsors. These sponsors are often family members legally residing in the United States. At least one immigrant was placed in every state in the specified time period, with 16 states receiving fewer than the 141 foreigners sent to Delaware.

The children’s identities and locations are unknown to state officials, including Gov. Jack Markell. But Kelly Bachman, a press secretary for the governor’s office, said Gov.

Markell supports President Obama’s $3.7 billion proposal to deal with the issue.

She said organizations such as La Esperanza and Catholic Charities are “both working hard to meet the needs of these children, which include basic items like clothing and food, school supplies and providers of bilingual services, including transportation.”

Many of these children enroll in schools while awaiting their hearings. According to the Delaware Code, children between ages 5 and 16 are required to enroll in public, private or home school.

The code states anyone with “legal custody, guardianship of the person or legal control of a child,” which includes official sponsors, is compelled to place the individuals in their care in school.

For those students in Sussex County schools, there is a support system. Indian River District has an intensive English Language Learner program in addition to its regular ELL aid.

The Hispanic population around the Georgetown area has seen some unaccompanied children placed there, in turn creating a need for the intensive program in Indian River.

Students who need to learn not only English but other core skills, such as math, are placed in this program, Indian River Director of Curriculum and Instruction LouAnn Hudson said.

“It’s targeted specifically to high school students, 14 to 18,” she said. “Many of them have breaks in education even in their native language. They have specific needs, not much schooling.”

Developed over the summer in response to an influx of immigrants in the early months of 2014, the plan aims to prepare students for entry into the regular ELL program, which consists of taking normal courses, but with the assistance of a teacher. Classes taken in the specialized program do count for credits. Ms. Hudson said she expects students to be able to move into the regular ELL program at schools after one year in the concentrated course.

Ms. Hudson said administrators did not know exactly why there was such an increase of uneducated children in the district until Gov. Markell announced in July some unaccompanied minors had been placed in Delaware.

Most students of high-school age placed in the intensive program are sent to Sussex Central High School, with a few receiving lessons at Indian River High School. The plan currently has about 45 students from various countries, not just ones in Central America.

There are also smaller programs in middle and elementary schools but the need is not as great for younger children, Ms. Hudson said.
“The younger they come, the deficit isn’t as difficult to make up,” she said. “They’re not as many years behind.”

Most of the children needing support services are of high-school age, she said. They have the opportunity to remain in school up until age 21 to earn a high school diploma.

If new students registering in the district indicate their home language is not English, they are given a test to determine their proficiency in English and then placed in an appropriate program if need be. That is not a new practice but has been the way school districts operated, Ms. Hudson said.

Students in the intensive course also can participate in school activities such as sports.

Though the district receives a little funding for the course from the federal government, most of it comes from the district — a sore spot for some officials, who have lobbied for money from the state.

Ms. Hudson said every district is required by law to have an ELL course.

The seven staffers in the course may not know which students are awaiting deportation hearings and which are legal immigrants, but they work to provide assistance to those needing it.

“The main goal is to get them into those classes which would earn them a high school diploma,” Ms. Hudson said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.