color photograph of Latinx migrants of varying ages, including school-age children, sit on a subway bench
Blanca Miranda and her daughter Valentina Caisatitin take the subway after a dinner for asylum-seeker families at Romemu Center in New York City on June 27, 2023. (Photo by LEONARDO MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Just a few weeks into the new school year, educators in New York City are grappling with how to assist and accommodate the arrival of migrant children. Students returned to their desks on Sept. 7, and tensions continue to rise among city and state officials on solutions to provide housing, education, and other support. 

Thousands of migrants have arrived in metropolitan cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., in recent months. Part of their arrival is due to Operation Lone Star, an effort started by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that has sent thousands of migrants by bus to Democrat-led cities and states. In New York City alone, more than 14,100 migrants have arrived since August 2022. 

In his State of Our Schools remarks, New York City Public Schools Chancellor David Banks said the school district is welcoming to “every student who crosses our doorstep.” But the resources to support those migrants don’t seem to be there.

“We’re hearing about many families who are arriving in New York City with very little. So you’re talking about acclimating to a new country, a new city that can feel pretty overwhelming even to native New Yorkers,” said Jennifer Pringle, the program director for Advocates for Children of New York. “Then this massive school system that is, again, hard to navigate even when you do speak English, even when you are from New York City.”  

More than 26,000 New York City public school students are currently living in temporary housing, many of whom are migrant students. Pringle said there appears to be a lack of coordination between New York City public schools and the agencies that provide shelter, along with a lack of staffing to direct families to the appropriate schools and enrollment offices at emergency shelters. 

“What we’ve seen this fall is that many children have waited days and weeks to get school placements just because there hasn’t been enough staff in the enrollment centers and in the shelters to help connect families to school,” Pringle said. 

The city has housed migrants at more than 200 hotels and emergency shelters. The arrival of the migrants has resulted in protests by some locals who fear resources are drying up. This month in Staten Island, one of the five boroughs in the city, protesters blocked a bus of migrants arriving at a former senior living facility. The demonstration resulted in 10 arrests. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has stated that the arrival of migrants will “destroy New York City.” The mayor issued an Emergency Executive Order for the city on Sept. 17 that required city agencies to conduct budget cuts to mitigate the financial impact. The city estimates the migrants’ arrival will cost $12 billion by the end of fiscal year 2025 if there is not any financial support from the state and federal government. Among the proposed cuts is a $2.1 billion cut to education. However, the city allocated $10.8 billion for the New York Police Department for 2023, making it the most expensive police force in the country.  

New York City is currently funding 53% of the public school system’s 2023-24 budget. Kathleen Bush-Joseph, a policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, says a long-term solution to the migrant crisis is needed. 

“There need to be more discussions around how Congress can act to update the funding mechanisms for cities and states and nonprofit organizations that are serving migrants,” Bush-Joseph said. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul wrote a public letter to President Joe Biden in August that addressed four key aspects of the migrants’ arrival in NYC that need assistance from the federal government. She called for expedited work authorizations, financial assistance for the state and city, the utilization of federal facilities within the city and nearby areas to temporarily serve as shelters, and state reimbursement for the use of the National Guard. Hochul also wrote that many of the migrant children arriving in the city are enrolling in public schools and need second-language support.

“Certainly providing services does impose costs, but at the same time what we know is that overall immigration does bring great benefits for communities and for cities and states,” Bush-Joseph said. “Hopefully, we will get to a place where the infrastructure and resources for welcoming migrants will be there.”

New York City Public Schools had 557 bilingual education programs across the 1,800 schools within the district for the 2022-23 school year. Pringle says the lack of bilingual programs has been a longstanding issue in the city.

“There were not enough bilingual programs or staff well before the recent increase in enrollment of immigrant students,” Pringle said. “The increase in enrollment of immigrant students who are English-language learners has exacerbated that problem, but that problem existed before this past year.” 

In bilingual programs, students receive the same instruction as they would in an English-only class, including core subjects such as math, science, and social studies. Pringle said there are even more opportunities for migrant students when arriving at New York City Public Schools, but there hasn’t been enough awareness around those opportunities. 

“We have a network of high schools called international high schools that are specifically for newcomer students. But the New York City public school system needs to make sure that parents know that those programs exist,” Pringle said. “A big part of it is outreach and staffing in these emergency shelters where the families are making sure they’re aware of what the different educational options are for their family.”

Bush-Joseph said seeking long-term solutions for breaking down the complexities of U.S. processes, such as providing identification documentation to enroll a child in school, is the next best step as cities work on moving from the initial stages of welcoming and sheltering migrants. 

“The availability of social workers as well as attorneys—or at the very least nonprofit organizations—who can assist with navigating these processes can be really helpful,” she said.

Imani Stephens is a journalist from Compton, California, who gives a voice to the voiceless. She is a graduate of The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Sandra Day O'Connor...