Massachusetts mayor says her city feeling effects of immigrant surge

BY Andrew Troast  August 27, 2014 at 6:43 PM EST

Judith Kennedy is the mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Judith Kennedy is the mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Lynn, Massachusetts is 1,500 miles from the U.S. border with Mexico, but the old factory city has found itself strained because of the recent surge of Central American minors into the country.

Mayor Judith Kennedy, who spoke at a press conference hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies this morning in Washington, is on a mission to ask for federal action as Lynn schools struggle to handle a rising tide of Central American students. Kennedy said that the minors in her city are coming from Guatemala, primarily the San Marcos region, and are sent to live with relatives in Lynn after they have been processed in San Antonio.

“When I talk to Immigration Customs Enforcement, they mention how they have reduced detention costs by resettling 80 percent of the migrants,” said Kennedy. “But those 80 percent are going to places like Lynn that bear the costs.”

According to Kennedy, in the 2010 to 2011 school year, the Lynn school system had 54 Central American students enrolled. As of the 2013-2014 school year, she said there were 538 in the schools.

Almost all the new students are illiterate in both Spanish and English, she said, making their education more difficult while costing the district hundreds of more dollars per student. In addition, the law requires students to be vaccinated before attending public school and the city-provided vaccinations have seen a massive uptick in demand and cost to operate.

“It’s gotten to the point where the school system is overwhelmed, our Health Department is overwhelmed, the city’s budget is being sustainably altered in order to accommodate in the school department,” Kennedy said.

Lynn has the fifth largest school system in Massachusetts and has seen its school population swell by eight percent as it admits more migrant children. Officials in Lynn also say they have been forced to admit students who they say are clearly over the ages of 17 and 18 but have no birth certificates or documentation besides those given by federal immigration officials. “We have no ability to directly confront a student about their age, per the (Department of Justice) guidelines we cannot ask them for verification of their age,” said Kennedy.

The Mayor said she is asking for lawmakers in Washington to ease the strain on Lynn and cities like it. “I don’t know if it means more financial aid to provide for these students, or having surrounding districts pick up the slack. I’m not a policy-maker but something needs to be done.”

Hear more voices from the immigration debate. PBS NewsHour has invited an immigration judge, a border patrol officer, an immigration lawyer and an Arizona rancher to give a personal account from their front-seat view of the clash over the recent influx of migrants from Central America. Watch these conversations in the playlist below: