Over the Past five months, Texas and Arizona have sent 9,400 migrants to the District on buses. While some have gone on to connect with loved ones in other cities, many migrant families currently call the nation’s capital home.
Those temporarily living at two District hotels include nearly 70 school-aged children who have since been enrolled in District public schools.
And to ease the transition of those children to their new homes and schools, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced the launch of the D.C. Office of Migrant Services last week.
Bowser said those newly enrolled students should be able to access D.C. Public Schools’ (DCPS) English Learner (EL) programs.
However, staff members at Wheatley Education Campus in Northeast said they continue to struggle in efforts to integrate the more than two dozen migrant students who have recently joined their school community.
While Spanish-speaking classmates have been instrumental in relaying messages, some teachers like one who requested anonymity continue to demand that DCPS provide an adequate number of translators and Spanish-speaking EL instructors.
Additional requests include an onboarding process for new arrivals and an assessment of resources that families may need to feel comfortable in their new surroundings. Without those tools, the teacher has pondered how to adjust pacing and whole-class delivery of content out of regard for their four new students and others who need to review fundamental subject matter.
“The staff members who speak Spanish are trying their best to be everywhere they’re needed but it’s not enough,” the teacher said. “We’re wondering what the District is doing to support these families. We’re happy to help any family that needs us but what will it take to send in more support to get students acclimated?”
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education mandates that District public and public charter schools ensure that ELs develop a level of English proficiency that allows them to meet the state academic standards. DCPS works to meet this goal through its Language Acquisition Division.
ELs, as defined by DCPS central office, include linguistically and culturally diverse students who don’t primarily speak English at home. Three out of four ELs immigrate from a Spanish-speaking country. Additionally, the more than 8,000 EL students in the public school system hail from 136 foreign countries and speak just as many languages and dialects.
Once migrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border, they navigate the immigration process and receive immigration parole with the expectation that they will later appear in court. Upon their release to community organizations, some migrants from Texas and Arizona have hopped on buses going to D.C. free of charge.
Over the past few months, Bowser has been critical of both Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbot (R). She expressed equally similar contempt for what she described as the Biden administration’s failure to help the D.C. government accommodate thousands of migrants.
On September 8, after unsuccessful attempts to petition the Department of Defense for D.C. National Guard deployment, Bowser declared a state of emergency and announced the launch of the D.C. Office of Migrant Services.
She dedicated $10 million in contingency funds to the office, which will be located within the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS).
These funds, most of which Bowser said she’ll attempt to have reimbursed by FEMA, will provide SAMU First Response and other entities with staffing support as they connect migrants arriving at Union Station with housing and other needed resources.
Bowser said she will soon send legislation to the D.C. Council to codify her response.
This summer, the D.C. Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of a new government office dedicated to migrant assistance. On Friday, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) continued to coordinate efforts between DHS and similar agencies in 25 jurisdictions closest to the District.
D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) expressed excitement about the D.C. Department of Migrant Services, which she’ll oversee from her committee assignment on the D.C. Council. In July, she introduced the migrant response council resolution. She later counted among those at the table as COG coordinated a regional response.
These efforts, Nadeau said, give credence to D.C. values that must be upheld.
“We’ve learned from border towns like El Paso and Brownsville and in many ways, the governors of Texas and Arizona have turned us into a border town,” Nadeau said.
“We don’t know how long this will take,” she added. “ We don’t know how long they will continue busing, so the right thing to do is to make sure we can greet every bus and get people off on the right foot and where they want to go. That will ultimately help them in their immigration process.”