By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted Wednesday that there was confusion at City Hall after two U.S. Department of Homeland immigration officials appeared at PS 58 in Maspeth last week asking about a fourth-grade student’s enrollment.
The mayor’s press secretary tweeted Saturday that the “school turned him away” but little more information was made available, leading some in the media to report that ICE agents had made the visit and were turned away because they did not have a warrant. The mayor’s protocol for city schools, laid out in March, required immigration agents to have a warrant and proved effective.
“It took us a while for us to get the clarification because we had not been notified by them and because of all the rhetoric we have heard we were confused — legitimately,” de Blasio said at an unrelated news event Wednesday. “And I’m happy to clarify it, because it was better than we feared. It was proof that the protocol for ICE agents was working. That was important for people to know because parents are scared. The notion that it was anything but enforcement did not come to us for quite a while.”
But the Department of Education knew all along. Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina greeted parents at the school Monday morning to calm fears, letting parents know the visit was made by two federal agents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of DHS, but not directly involved with ICE.
Farina said the Department of Education is aware of the student’s identity, the family has been informed and it is not believed to be an immigration issue rather part of an administrative inquiry pertaining to an immigration benefit request.
“This was not ICE. This was an agent that we are still trying to discover. He didn’t bring a card, he didn’t bring a badge,” Farina said. “He never got beyond the front desk. Our protocol now is to make sure when anyone comes into the building, to show information. He waits outside the school building, then that school notifies the lawyers at DOE, we notify immigrant services, and its handled on that level.”
The mayor got further clarification when he met for nearly an hour Monday with DHS Secretary John Kelly and discussed the incident. They pledged to work together to ensure that the DHS investigative work in question would be performed remotely and without the presence of federal immigration agents in New York City schools.
“The whole situation could have been averted if DHS had reached out to us,” de Blasio said. “We would have said, ‘if you need the information, we’ll provide it.’ ”
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) is looking for answers. She fired off a letter to the head of USCIS demanding to know why the agents were at PS 58, in her district, to begin with.
“As a mother of two public school students here in Queens, one of which is also in the fourth-grade, I remain deeply concerned about USCIS agents showing up to PS 58,” Meng said. “We want to know about the agency’s policies, protocols and circumstances that led to the agents entering the school, and I eagerly await answers to these important questions.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr