Government by tweet has come to City Hall.
At 6:17 p.m. on Saturday, May 13, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary tweeted out a message: “Mayor’s been briefed on a federal immigration agent showing up at Queens’ PS 58 Thursday asking about a fourth-grader. School turned him away.”
The tweet, which broke the news three days after the disturbing visit, set off a firestorm of criticism from elected officials in Queens, immigration advocates and worried parents.
What took City Hall so long to notify the public? Was the agent working for the feared Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm?
As Trump took office, rumors swept immigrant neighborhoods in Queens and the rest of the city that ICE agents might raid schools and churches. With that, the mayor vowed in March to keep ICE agents out of schools.
After the first City Hall tweet, the city Immigration Affairs Office chimed in on Twitter saying immigrant agents had no place in city schools. Twitter lighted up with comments from all sides. And that same night, the Department of Education tweeted out it would do everything in its power to protect public school students and said the agent had been turned away.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina went to the Maspeth school Monday morning in an effort to calm parents. She said it was the first time the city’s policy of not allowing a federal agent into a school without a warrant had been tested.
But it turned out ICE had not sent the agent to the school. In a later tweet, de Blasio’s spokesman said U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services — another Homeland Security subsidiary — had sent two officials to the school about a child’s application for an immigration benefit. The child was not contacted. USCIS processes immigration paperwork.
We had a full-blown panic attack developing in Queens, where nearly half the residents are foreign-born, and we want to know why the mayor’s office didn’t move swiftly to dispel fears that ICE was at work. De Blasio’s crew had that intelligence before Farina visited PS 58.
De Blasio met with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in Washington Monday about the incident, as we learned again by tweet.
The appearance of federal agents at a school touched a raw nerve in Queens, where there have been anecdotal reports about immigrants keeping their children home from school and avoiding churches.
On the other hand, the city’s tough policy blocked the agents this time around, but we must be on constant guard to safeguard our students regardless of their status — with or without Twitter.
Schools are sacred ground in this sanctuary city.