Illegal immigrants in Connecticut say they are now scared to sign their children up for free or reduced-priced school lunches because they believe doing so will run the risk of deportation.
Illegal immigrant parents have been calling the Danbury school district offices to ask if federal immigration officials can gain access to the forms they must complete to access taxpayer-funded free lunches or lunch discounts.
District employees say “hundreds” of illegal immigrant parents have expressed concerns in recent months. Most are scared their immigration status could be exposed because of their participation in lunch programs. A few have gone so far as to consider pulling their kids out of school.
Anne Mead, the director of the school district’s Family & Community Engagement Center, says she receives five calls each day from concerned illegal immigrant parents. She says she assures the parents that their information will remain beyond the reach of immigration officials.
A second school district employee, Marjorie Vargas-Fernandes, said she has “spent hours” advising illegal immigrant parents that they can fill out the free and reduced-lunch forms without fear of reprisals.
In many cases, the students are U.S. citizens because they were born in the United States but the parents are living in the United States illegally.
Reduced-priced and free lunches aren’t really discounted or free, of course. A federal welfare program uses tax dollars to reimburse school districts for lost lunch revenue.
Participants in the federal government’s $70.9 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program must live in a household where at least one American citizen resides.
However, the National School Lunch Program has no such requirements. All students are eligible for the program regardless of immigration status.
The deputy superintendent of schools in Danbury, William Glass, recalled a previous round of immigration-status anxiety which caused the school district to lose “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for school supplies because illegal immigrants stopped filling out free and reduced-lunch forms. The federal government relies on those forms to distribute several streams of funding. Consequently, those funding streams were diminished.
Advocates for providing affordable lunches to the children of illegal immigrants say that the meal could be the only decent one they have all day.
It’s not clear if Danbury Public Schools employees are letting kids starve if they can’t afford to buy lunch.
The Heritage Foundation observes that taxpayers foot the bill for such lunches and for educating the children of illegal immigrants.
“Currently, the U.S. spends approximately $12,000 per year to educate each child in public school,” the News-Times quotes the Heritage Foundation as saying. “And the influx of children who are in the country illegally further increases those costs.”
A 2015 study by the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that favors low immigration numbers, suggests that 51 percent of immigrant households in the United States utilize at least one welfare program. (RELATED: Report: 51 Percent Of Immigrants Use Welfare Programs)
In Danville, social worker Tatiane Reinert told the News-Times, some illegal immigrant fathers spent the days after Election Day staying close to their children’s schools to ensure that immigration agents did not remove their children.
The Department of Homeland Security, which supervises the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, considers schools and churches “sensitive locations” where they typically will not detain anyone.