Tiny fraction of migrant youths are in Arizona

Posted at 5:45 AM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-02 08:50:01-04

Just a fraction of the total number of migrant youths who arrived in the United States without parents since the fall of 2013 have been placed in Arizona.

An analysis by The Associated Press found that 602 unaccompanied minors from mostly Central American countries have been placed with a parent or sponsor in the state.

The Border Patrol apprehended well over 100,000 youths traveling without a parent between October 2013 and February 2016.

The arrivals gained attention in the summer of 2014 as the Border Patrol in Texas, where many of the youths arrived, ran out of resources to process them, sending some to Arizona for a temporary stay.

The scene in Oracle, Arizona, just north of Tucson, was tense in the July 2014 as the government announced that a number of youths who had arrived in United States on their own would be placed at an Arizona school temporarily.

Protesters rallied with signs and clashed with counter-protesters, at times getting into physical altercations. The protesters forcibly stopped a school bus full of local children from the YMCA after mistaking it for a bus carrying the immigrants.

Former Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce, known as the architect of the strict immigration law SB1070, was one of the protesters in Oracle. He says the government didn't do enough to stop the influx of migrant children.

"This administration is in the business of breaking the law and they have become the coyotes of brining in illegal children and adults," Pearce said, adding that he didn't believe the youths actually came on their own but were accompanied by adults or smugglers.

Many of the immigrants who have arrived in the past few years say they are fleeing gang violence and extreme poverty in places like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Pearce says he feels for them, but that entering the country illegally is not the solution.

He says the cost to keep a child enrolled in school in Arizona is too high.

"There's a huge cost and Americans pay the price," Pearce said

From October 2013 through February 2016, government has released nearly 104,000 of the 132,000 apprehended minors to sponsors or relatives while their immigration cases play out in court.

Most of the youths were released to Texas, California, Florida, New York and Maryland. The number of unaccompanied minors released in Arizona accounts for about half of a percent of those released nationwide.

Released minors also account for .05 percent of public school students in Arizona.

Cyndi Tercero, the dropout prevention coordinator for Phoenix Union High School District, says the district made it a point to let all of its 16 schools know that they were required to facilitate enrollment even if a student was lacking typically necessary documentation such as prior school records. The district has 27,000 students and is one of the largest high school districts in the country.

"We worked really hard to make sure our staff was not creating barriers," Tercero said.

Tercero said schools only know about a student's immigration status if a parent or guardian volunteers the information. The district otherwise doesn't track that.

Tercero said enrolling many of the unaccompanied minors who have been arriving in the past few years has posed challenges as many of them don't have birth certificates or prior school records.

Schools have struggled with figuring out which grades to place some immigrant youths in.

"It's been a little bit of trial and error," she said.