2021 | Government

Montgomery County has received more than 1,200 unaccompanied immigrant children this year

In entire metro region, nearly 4,600 minors were released to sponsors, families

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Montgomery County has received more than 1,200 unaccompanied children this year, as the entire region takes in more minors than expected. 

The latest figures were shared Monday during a joint meeting of county and school district representatives.

Gabe Albornoz, the chair of the Montgomery County Council’s Health and Human Services committee, led a joint meeting with the Education and Culture committee to discuss how local officials are assisting immigrant children.

Montgomery County Public Schools and Board of Education members participated, too.

According to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, 1,230 unaccompanied immigrant children came to Montgomery County and were released to sponsors between January and September.

In the entire region of Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Fairfax County, and the District of Columbia, a total of 4,575 unaccompanied immigrant children arrived during this same period.

Those numbers don’t include children who the federal government has been unable to track, council staff documents stated.

But they do indicate that local jurisdictions have already taken in more unaccompanied children than initially anticipated earlier this year. In May, officials said as many as 3,000 were expected in the Washington D.C., region, and that 104 had arrived in Montgomery County.

Albornoz said during Tuesday’s session that it’s up to Montgomery County leaders to help those children as they move into the county, and enter the school system and other areas of county life. Many are fleeing their native countries because of civil unrest, the effects of climate change, poverty and other factors, he added.

“While they are here, we are going to do everything that we can, within reason, to support their academic needs, as well as their social and emotional needs,” Albornoz said. 

The Department of Health and Human Services recently hired a contract newcomer coordinator, Tania Alfaro, to help assist in those efforts.

The position is one of several that will be funded by a $5.4 million appropriation the council’s Health and Human Services and Education and Culture committees approved in July. The full County Council approved the appropriation at a meeting later in July. 

Much of Monday’s meeting consisted of elected officials asking about how that money was being used to assist unaccompanied minors, and overall efforts by school and health officials.

Council Member Nancy Navarro said officials should consider a more centralized approach to assisting unaccompanied minors, including through a “Newcomer High School,” which would provide various educational and social services for that population.

Damon Monteleone, the assistant chief of MCPS’ Office of Teaching, Learning, and Schools, said district officials have talked about increasing services at the international enrollment welcoming center, but not about the ideas Navarro suggested. 

Monteleone said that even with all of the great work MCPS officials and partners do, Navarro is right to look at more centralized models to serve unaccompanied minors.

“I think that the impetus for change is clear, the charges are clear, the data is clear,” he said. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com