By Bill Parry
The city’s Department of Education has learned that it was not an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who was turned away by school officials at PS 58 in Maspeth last Thursday. But the visit by a federal immigration officer touched a nerve in Queens with U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Borough President Melinda Katz.
City officials said an officer had come to the Grand Avenue School of Heroes to confirm facts about a fourth-grade student, but was asked to leave because he did not have a warrant, according to the mayor’s office.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, greeted parents at the school Monday morning and calm fears that it was a visit by ICE officers. They said two officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency that is part of DHS but not directly affiliated with ICE, appeared at the school.
“All students, regardless of immigration status, are welcome in New York City public schools, and parents should rest assured that we will do everything in our power to protect students, staff and families,” Fariña said. “The federal agent was turned away — we’re looking into this incident and are providing schools with additional information on our protocol and more trainings.”
Fariña said the Department of Education is aware of the student’s identity and the family has been informed and it is not believed to be an immigration issue but 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,” Fariña said. “He never got beyond the front desk. Our protocol now is to make sure when anyone comes into the building (he or she is required) to show information. He waits outside the school building, then that school notifies the lawyers at DOE, we notify immigrant services, and it’s handled on that level.”
Meng said the incident raises many questions and her office would seek answers in the coming days. PS 58 is in Meng’s district.
“Just yesterday during a community discussion on immigration at the Jamaica Muslim Center, I again criticized the lack of consistency and standards in which agents enforce immigration policies at our airports and borders, and how they randomly pop up at courts and hospitals. Now, unfortunately, this has extended to our schools,” Meng said in a statement Sunday. “Officials at PS 58 did the right thing by turning this immigration agent away. We cannot allow an incident like this to create an atmosphere of fear in our schools. Our schools must be a safe and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their immigration status or the status of their families.”
Katz declared Queens schools are to be off-limits to federal immigration agents.
“As a mother, I am deeply troubled and horrified at this attempt on the part of federal immigration agents to reach any child in our schools,” Katz said. “PS 58 officials did the right thing by following proper protocols of the city administration, stopping the agents at the door and protecting their students. No parent should have to worry about any unauthorized persons or entities reaching their children while in school.”
The USCIS Public Affairs Officer Katie Tichacek Kaplan released a statement Monday.
“While we cannot discuss the details of the case, we can confirm that two USCIS officials visited an elementary school in Maspeth, Queens, as part of an administrative inquiry pertaining to an immigration benefit,” she wrote. “Although school visits are not routine in these circumstances, they are not unprecedented. I must emphasize that the purpose of the visit was to verify certain facts about the student’s enrollment in relation to a request for an immigration benefit. At no time did the officers ask to see or speak with the student, who was not the subject of the administrative inquiry.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr