DANBURY, Conn. – Illegal immigrant families in Danbury Public Schools are freaking out that Donald Trump will deport them, and some are avoiding the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program to avoid that possibility.
Anne Mead, director of the district’s Family and Community Engagement Center, told the News Times she gets numerous calls every day from illegal immigrant parents worried about whether their child’s free or reduced lunches could flag the federal government to their residency status.
Mead assures them school officials won’t share their personal information with immigration authorities, and the district only reports general data about its program to obtain Title I funding.
Regardless, “workers say they’ve talked to hundreds who considered dropping assistance like free or reduced-priced meals” and Danbury school officials are worried more than 1,000 “eligible” families aren’t taking advantage of the government entitlements.
That’s a big deal because the school relies on students signing up for the free government food – regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens or not – to justify its Title I funding allocation. In other words, the more poor students the district serves the more federal money it gets, so district officials want to get as many students as possible to sign up for the “free” lunches, citizens or not.
President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration is putting a kink in that funding because many illegal immigrants are now scared to sign up for government giveaways because they could be deported.
Mead and others at Danbury schools described how the attitude of illegal immigrants in the district has changed since Trump was elected:
Mead recounted an incident when a uniformed police officer made a brief visit to the resource center and parents froze in place, clutching their children. Another time parents ran away when led into the parking lot.
Caseworker Tatiane Reinert said that after Election Day, many fathers stood vigil in the parking lot “like guardian ” after dropping their children off at school, making sure their children were not taken away during the day.
Danbury’s school lunch coordinator, Marjorie Vargas-Fernandes, told the news site the application for free- or reduced-price lunches requires parents to submit a Social Security number, or to check a box for “no SSN,” which poses a problem for illegal immigrants who don’t want to give themselves away.
“Nine out of the ten times I get incomplete papers, it’s there,” she said of the “no SSN” check box.
Vargas-Fernandes contends that unlike other federal assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – also known as food stamps – the “free” federal breakfast and lunch program is available to both legal and illegal residents.
The Heritage Foundation pointed out in a 2014 editorial that U.S. schools are required by law to educate illegal immigrant students, and the expense goes far beyond the “free” lunches.
Senior Heritage communications fellow Geniviere Wood wrote:
Currently, the U.S. spends approximately $12,000 per year to educate each child in public school. And the influx of children who are in the country illegally further increases those costs. That’s because more regular teachers have to be hired, and – because many students don’t speak English – more bilingual teachers and resources have to be brought in as well.
According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, as of 2009, taxpayers have spent over $440 million on English instruction classes for children – some of whom are here legally, some not – whose parents are in the U.S. illegally. Houston is one of several cities where a local school district has created schools specifically for such children – and all these children are eligible for free or reduced lunches under the federal school lunch program.
Needless to say, this puts a huge burden on local districts and states – many of which are already struggling to provide a good education for the children who live there legally. As Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin puts it: “Already one in four Oklahoma children struggle(s) with hunger. One in four will drop out of high school before graduating. It is wrong for the president to ask Oklahomans to divert their attention and limited resources away from our own children.”