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Early evening scene at Safe Horizon’s office on 125th street in Harlem in mid February of 2024.

CityLimits: Newly Arrived Immigrant Youth Face Challenges to School Enrollment

While federal law mandates immediate enrollment in school for youth and young adults under 21 experiencing homelessness – even if they don’t have proof of residency or other documents –  NYLAG and other organizations are witnessing newly arrived immigrant youth frequently placed on waitlist, told there is no space, or encouraged to pursue the General Education Development (GED) high school equivalency test – an option that may not align with their educational aspirations.  

“The 20-year-old from Mauritania arrived in the city four months ago with the dream of graduating from high school in the United States. 
“’I want to make my life better. I am still a baby, and I should go to school to have more experience, to have more knowledge,” the youth—who preferred not to be identified by name, citing past experiences with other media—said in fluent English, something he quickly picked up from daily interactions, adding to the multitude of languages he already speaks. “I don’t want to lose my time’ 

“In only four months, he has moved from one shelter to the other: living first in Manhattan, then Brooklyn, and now the Bronx, after the city instituted a 30-day shelter limit for adult migrants in the city last year, which was extended last week to 60 days for adults under 23 as part of the city’s ’right to shelter’ settlement. 
“Over 852 single immigrant youth between the ages of 17 and 20 were in the city’s shelter system as of March 3, according to City Hall. Dozens of them have told shelter staff they want to graduate from high school, but haven’t been enrolled—even though they are entitled to do so under federal law, according to several community-based organizations (CBOs) that are trying to assist them. 
“Eight local organizations that provide services to immigrants and/or youth described delays and difficulties in enrolling young migrants recently. The organization with the highest number of cases was Safe Horizon’s Streetwork Project, a drop-in center for homeless youth that has been serving an increasing number of asylum seekers since last year, which says it has referred around 60 cases of migrants directly to the New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) since January. 

“But only six have been enrolled so far, lamented Sebastien Vante, associate vice president of Safe Horizon’s Streetwork Project in Harlem. 
“Other organizations—Afrikana, an East Harlem community center that serves young immigrants; Artists Athletes Activists, which greets asylum seekers upon arrival and connects them with support services; the Coalition for Homeless Youth; The Door, which offers legal aid, counseling, and various support services to youth; and the New York Legal Assistance Group—told City Limits that the youth they serve have faced difficulties in school enrollment. “ 

Read the full piece by Daniel Parra in CityLimits from March 20, 2024. 

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