ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity has a message for President Obama and those in the federal government — reimburse us for the more than $14 million it will cost in this school year to educate the undocumented minors the feds placed with sponsors in Fairfax this year.
With nearly 200,000 students, Fairfax County Public Schools is bearing the fiscal brunt of educating about half of the roughly 2,000 undocumented minors who have been placed with sponsors — usually family members — in the commonwealth since January. Since non-English speakers cost more to educate than English speakers, Herrity and the school district estimate it will cost nearly $15,000 each to educate the more than 1,000 minors eligible to enroll in his county’s schools. Some estimates place that per-student cost even higher.
“I had just done the basic calculation,” Herrity told Watchdog.org on Wednesday. “There’s far more impacts than the actual basic school costs for any ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) student.”
Per capita, Fairfax County took in far more undocumented minors than even Los Angeles County — which, just across the U.S.-Mexico border and with a population of 10 million, took in less than 2,000 undocumented minors, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“It competes with the fiscal constraints that our schools are already under,” Herrity said.
The bulk of all those minors — roughly 85 percent — who came across the U.S.-Mexico border between October 2013 and May were teenagers, meaning many undocumented students are enrolling in middle and high schools. Legally, school districts are required to educate all minors, regardless of citizenship status.
In Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Herrity asked county executives to come up with a more exact figure to span all the government services that would be used by undocumented children in need on top of education costs.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Herrity said. “These are children. We need to do what we can to take care of them while they’re here. I think it’s that simple. But they’re here because the federal government has not done their job and sent them here, so the federal government should be reimbursing. This shouldn’t be an unfair burden on our taxpayers.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement didn’t immediately respond for comment.
Undocumented minors are often placed at charities or juvenile detention centers — like those in Richmond, Prince William County, Alexandria and Staunton — until next of kin or some other sponsor in the country can be found.
While it may be taking in more undocumented minors than any other county in the commonwealth, Fairfax County isn’t alone. The Office of Refugee Resettlement only releases data for localities where 50 or more undocumented minors have been released to sponsors, so some smaller ones are likely left out. The following are the number of unaccompanied children released to sponsors by county in Virginia:
Alexandria — 205
Arlington County — 133
Chesterfield County — 104
Fairfax County — 1,023
Harrisonburg — 65
Henrico County — 50
Loudon County — 210
Manassas — 103
Norfolk — 58
Prince William County — 361
Richmond City — 112
(Reprinted with permission)