- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Montgomery County schools are seeing a surge in illegal immigrant children enrolling in the school system after having crossed the border unaccompanied, schools officials say.

During a hearing before the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday that explored the county’s response to the crisis on the border, schools officials said 107 unaccompanied minors were enrolled in the 151,000-student school system during the last school year through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which had placed the children with family or friends in the county.

Chrisandra Richardson, associate superintendent in the Office of Special Education and Student Services, said that of the 107 students, 100 students were high school students and all of them came from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras.

The children are part of a flood of illegal immigrants who are crossing the border unaccompanied, often fleeing violence in their home countries, and creating a crisis for federal officials who are struggling to care for them and place them.

The count did not include children who enrolled in schools after reuniting with families in the county on their own.

Schools officials said overall the number of students enrolling from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras jumped from 599 in the 2012-2013 school year to 958 in 2013-2014. A total of 123 students from the three countries have enrolled in July alone, Ms. Richardson said.

“So we are seeing that increase,” she said.

Council member Nancy Navarro, District 4 Democrat, sought the briefing. Ms. Navarro said census figures show the county’s Latino population, the largest in the state, grew 707 percent from 1980-2010, mostly from an influx of immigrants coming from Central America in the 1980s. She said the county now has a well-established network for immigrants.

“Just connect all the dots and you know that sooner or later — and we don’t know when — but sooner or later we are going to encounter a very complex situation, one that we were not prepared to grapple with,” Ms. Navarro said.

Uma Ahluwalia, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said the federal government covers costs and takes responsibility for children it houses at facilities across the country. But children are also being placed with “sponsors” already in the country and others sometimes make it to family members without being detected by federal authorities.

The federal government covers the cost of children it houses. But once children are placed with sponsors, all federal support is withdrawn and families often turn to local schools and resources for services, Ms. Ahluwalia said.

She said 2,025 children have been placed with sponsors in Maryland, with a total 4,626 children placed with sponsors in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

“We’re already at the community level starting to see some of the impacts,” she said.

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