Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Judith Flanagan Kennedy
Mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts
CIS Director of Policy Studies
Time: 9:00 a.m. EDT
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Transcript by Federal News Service
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. We’re online at cis.org. And we wanted to host an event that puts some context and some kind of real-life numbers and real-life facts onto the fallout of what we’re seeing and have been seeing now for a while in the border surge of Central Americans, especially coming across south Texas.
And what we’ve seen really bears out the observation that every state is now a border state and every town is now a border town. And so one of the border towns that we wanted to hear from was Lynn, Massachusetts, which is some 1,500 miles from the border with Mexico, outside – it’s outside Boston – and has been dealing not just for the past few months but really for the past couple of years with the consequences of this growing surge of Central American illegal immigrants, many of them ostensibly unaccompanied, ostensibly minors.
And to tell us something about what’s going on there, we have the mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts. Judy Flanagan Kennedy is the 56th mayor of Lynn, which is kind of an interesting – interesting long, you know, pedigree there. She’s been mayor for about almost five years now and. Even before that, her work kind of gave her an insight into some of these local effects. She was on the school committee and practiced real estate law for a long time, and so has – really has an up-close, intimate familiarity with what local communities are having to deal with because of this failure of the federal government to do its job.
So Mayor Kennedy – JFK, mind you, is the initials – will be telling us some of her thoughts, some of her experiences. And then after that, Jessica Vaughan, who’s one of our top analysts at the Center for Immigration Studies, will give some national numbers and some of the public safety fallout of what we’re seeing on the southern border. And then we’ll open it up for questions. So Mayor Kennedy, it’s to you.
MAYOR JUDY FLANAGAN KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Krikorian. Good morning, everybody, I’m Judy Kennedy. I usually drop the Flanagan; it’s just too many syllables for kind of informal speaking here.
But I first – as you know, Lynn is a coastal city, north of Boston – about 10 miles north of Boston. We have a population of about 90,000 people, making us the ninth-largest city in Massachusetts, but we have the fifth-largest school system. We’ve seen a great increase in our school system over the past couple of years. And in the fall of 2012, my school superintendent came to me and said, I’ve been noticing a large number of unaccompanied minors, unaccompanied children, coming in from Guatemala. And they’re all coming – she thought it was a city, it turns out it’s a province – they’re all coming from San Marcos. So I don’t understand how all of these people from San Marcos are making their way up to Lynn.
So we looked at the numbers. And from September 10th through June 2011, we had a total of two new out-of – out-of-country admissions from Guatemala. From September 11th through June of 2012, we had 26 out-of-country admissions from Guatemala into the school system. Now, from September 12th to September 2013, the period at which the superintendent noticed this, we had 84 new admissions from out of country, from Guatemala.
So we started to look into this a little bit. And a lot of these children that were coming in to our city were coming through a place called the Jubilee Center in San Antonio, Texas. So our first thought was to find out what is this Jubilee Center and what’s going on here. As best we could determine, it appears to be a type of clearinghouse that is used to resettle these people who are coming across the border. And they are not all children. One of the things that we did notice when we were processing some of these students coming in was that they were adults. They were all claiming to be somewhere between – well, the vast majority of them, were claiming to be between 14 and 17 years old. But there were people with greying temples, hair around the temples. There were people with more wrinkles than I have around their eyes. And we were told through a directive from the Department of Justice that we were not to question or verify – attempt to verify these ages. A lot of the children gave a birthdate of January 1st. A lot of them could not sign their names; they had to sign their names with an X. And a lot of them were illiterate, not only in English, but also in Spanish, and spoke a tribal dialect, a mountain dialect, so it really made it difficult to place these students in any kind of a classroom setting.
So what we decided to do, in that 2012-2013 school year, there were 56 of these unaccompanied minors that were placed in a night school. And they were fed, they were given a meal at the night school. And during the day they were allowed to go about their business. Some of them chose to work; many of them worked in landscaping in those warmer months.
And that was working fine until the lawyers stepped in. I consider myself a recovering lawyer and when I tell you something like this, you’ll understand why. And they said, you are not giving these children an education equal to your full-time daytime program. You have to have 990 hours of education. So you either have to expand your night school program to 990 hours, or you have to integrate them into your regular public high schools. Well, the superintendent chose to do the latter. But because we have these students who are illiterate, we’re not putting alleged 15- and 16-year-olds in classrooms next to 6- or 7-year-olds. So we decided to put them into the ninth grade.
Now, that meant that from September 2012 through June of 2013, we had 56 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala placed in the ninth grade alone. We decided that we needed to find out from the federal government what was going on. Why were we getting all of these new students, and why were they all coming from the same province? So we started to meet with Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts. And, unfortunately, he lost his election a couple of months after that to Elizabeth Warren, who became our senator. And for a variety of reasons, we did not pursue this with Senator Warren. We kind of suffered in silence up in Lynn and did the best we could with these students.
Now from September of 2013 to June of 2014, this trend showed no signs of abating. Ninth grade admissions for children from Guatemala totaled 101 for the school year September 2013 to 2014; that’s almost double what we had gotten the year before. As you recall, that number was 56. And, at the same time, they were starting to get – to be some national exposure about this issue. So the superintendent and I decided we were no longer going to sit back and just take these students but speak out and let the federal government know that all of the places that were housing these unaccompanied children – you know, places like Fort Sill and places like Murrieta that were getting a number – Murrieta, California – that were getting a lot of these students – were not the only communities affected, that there were people as far north as little old Lynn, Massachusetts that were being affected by this.
And, I have to tell you an interesting story, and this really made us sit up and take notice. And it showed us that some of these people truly are illiterate in both of the languages. When one gentleman presented his papers to the school department, to the parent information center, to enroll in school, he presented an arrest warrant with it, but because he couldn’t read, he didn’t realize he was presenting his own arrest warrant. So we called the local police, who in turn called ICE, who in turn declined to detain this gentleman, and we don’t know where he went. He’s just – he didn’t enroll in school, but we don’t really know what happened to him.
So we have been struggling with the number of students that we have received. And just as – to give you an idea of whether the trend is continuing or not, because if you believe the press – sorry to those of you here, but – if you believe the – what the federal government tells us in the press, these numbers have curtailed significantly. Now, we all know that the train broke down. We also know during warmer weather, historically, there’s been a decline in the border crossings because who wants to go through the desert in July?
But right now, prior to the opening of the 2014-2015 school year, we have 10 new students enrolled, just between that number I gave you from June of 2014 and now we have 10 more ninth grade students enrolled and one more 10th and one more 11th from Guatemala. So Lynn is not seeing any reversal of that trend.
Obviously, this has affected our school system. As I said, although we have the ninth-largest population in Massachusetts, we have the fifth-largest school department population. We have to hire aides for these students. We have to find classroom space for these students. We have to also spend more money on all of these students. Massachusetts has a school spending formula: For each school department there’s a different dollar cost per student that has to be met. In our particular case, and in all cases actually, we have to have that baseline amount to spend per student. Thereafter, if the student is an English language learner, there is a premium put on that base requirement. And if the student comes in with special emotional needs, which many of these students do, there is yet another premium put on that base.
Now, unfortunately, I cannot separate out refugees from legal immigrants from unaccompanied minors. But I can tell you that the trend for out-of-country admissions to the school system, in total from all countries, has gone from 54 in the year 2010-2011, the school year, to 329 from 2011-2012, to 421 from ’12 to ’13, and we had – let’s see – 538 from 2013 to 2014. And as I said, we’ve had 10 in the ninth grade from Guatemala already prior to the opening of this school year.
So we have been trying to accommodate this. We have built a new middle school. However, that school is not scheduled to open ‘til September of 2016, and it is already deemed to be overcrowded before its doors even open. We’ve also seen a real uptick in our public health services that are required because all students have to be vaccinated before they come into our school system.
So just by comparison, in – let me see – July of – well, let’s take July of 2011 – my health department gave out 11 vaccinations. In July of 2013, the health department gave out 129 vaccinations. In July of 2014, the health department gave out 159 vaccinations. Now, we’ve only had our public health clinic open for vaccinations a couple of hours a week, historically. But because of this surge we’ve had to increase the number of nurses that we have and increase the number of hours that our clinic is open. And, although I have not yet put a firm dollar cost on how much all of these accommodations have cost the city of Lynn, I do know that, because of primarily the increase in my required school department spending, has caused me, when crafting my 2015 – FY 2015 budget, to have to cut all of my other departments between 2 and 5 percent on their total that they had gotten for last year’s spending, whereas my school department has gotten a 9.3 percent increase.
Now how that affects Lynn in real life: I had a great program in Lynn, a community policing program, where the six sectors of the city of Lynn, as the police have divided it, each had their own bike cop. And the bike cops were there to take care of quality of life issues, to look into problems before they got to be big problems, to keep an eye on gang recruitment – and over the last few years, the city of Lynn has managed to bring down its number of known gang members and affiliates from about 1,300 down to 350. And I attribute that decline in large part to the community policing program that we have had in place. That program can no longer be continued because that money has had to be diverted to the school department.
Simple things, day-to-day things like trash collection – when there are more people in the community, the tonnage goes up. When the tonnage goes up, the tipping fees go up because they have more trash to dispose of. I’ve already given you the example of how the public health department has had to borrow from – within other lines of what we call the inspectional services department; that is actually where our health department is located for budgeting purposes. And we’ve already had to take from other line items in inspectional services to accommodate the needs in the public health department.
We have gotten frustrated, and I decided, when I saw that these stories were becoming national news, to speak out about it. I have met with officials from ICE, and they will tell you that – they were talking at this time when the detention facilities were becoming a big issue. And they said, well, you know, things are really great because 80 percent of the people can get resettled, and we only retain about 20 percent of the people in the detention facilities. Well, the 80 percent of those people who are being resettled are coming to places like Lynn. And I’m not here to talk about broad federal immigration policy because that’s something for the federal officials to work out. I’m simply here to explain to the federal officials that their actions or inactions will affect places that are on a map in such a way that they would never be considered to be affected by their decision-making, but they truly are.
Now, Lynn has always had a thriving Guatemalan community, we have a community of about – well, at least as of a couple of years ago – it was about 2,400 people. And when these students are coming in from Guatemala, and they are asked down at the Jubilee Center where they might know somebody, naturally they’re going to say, well, we know people in Lynn, because there already is a sizable community here and it’s a natural place for them to want to resettle. And I just guess that I’m looking for a more equitable solution from the federal government.
And whether that equity comes in the form of giving me a regional school, so that these students can be educated regionally rather than becoming a strain on my particular school system, or whether it becomes a form of financial aid so that a city like Lynn can have more money to deal with the issue, or whether it becomes a question of having other surrounding school systems pick up part of the – part of the overflow here and become a little pressure valve to take the pressure off of my community – I’m not proposing that any one solution is better than any other, but I am simply asking that the federal government be made aware of what happens in communities where these unaccompanied children are settled and what we have to do about it.
The other issue that I do want to bring up here is that none of these children come in with any criminal record history, so we have no way of knowing whether they have been in trouble criminally in their home – in their home countries. We have to simply accept what we get at face value. And I think that does pose a potential danger for my children and for my community at large, and I’d just like to see something done about it.
So when I heard Jessica Vaughan on the radio, I reached out to her, I said, can I talk to you, and she said, oh my God, I’ve heard about your community, I’d really like to talk to you as well. And for the last couple of months Jessica and I have been working together trying to get the word out, trying to keep this discussion, at least from my point of view, on a purely economic level. I don’t want to start casting aspersions on people. Lynn is a very diverse community. I love the fact that Lynn is a diverse community. By speaking out about this I have been called a racist, I have been called a hater. That is not the case. I’m simply looking at this from the point of view of the economic impact it has had on my city. So I know that there will be a Q-and-A question later, and I’ll – session later – I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. But in the meantime I think Jessica has some points to add about her analysis of the issues that arise when the unaccompanied minors come to the United States.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: Thanks so much. What I wanted to do is – you know, I think Lynn is a very interesting case study of the true local impact of our failure to get control of this influx of people from Central America, which started, really, a couple of years ago, as evidenced by the statistics that Mayor Kennedy gave us just from her community. So what I wanted to do is kind of, I guess, blow up the information for a sense of how the surge is collectively affecting the nation and the sum total of all of our communities, and also talk about one particular aspect – one particular unintended consequence that is likely to occur as a result of this new influx of illegal arrivals from Central America, and I – we had some packets of information that I’m going to refer to throughout my presentation that I hope people had a chance to pick up, and if not, I think there will be some on the table outside the room that give you a reference for some of the numbers that I’m going to mention and some that I probably won’t have a chance to mention.
But there has not been a lot of detailed information released by the Department of Homeland Security about the true size of the influx that we’re experiencing. What they have told the public is that as of July 31st of this year, in this fiscal year, about 63,000 unaccompanied alien children – and that is illegal migrants who are younger than 18 years old and not accompanied by a parent – they are accompanied, usually, by a smuggler or by friends or family members – about 63,000 have turned themselves in to the border patrol, most of those encounters occurring in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.
We are also told that in this fiscal year, as of July 31st, about the same number – almost 63,000 – family units have presented themselves to the border patrol and taken been taken into custody.* DHS either does not track or just doesn’t want to say exactly how many people that number represents in the family units, but obviously, it’s at least two people – probably more in many cases. So at least two-thirds of this surge is made up of family units coming to the United States. This is not just about the children or the teenagers.
* Editor's Note: The Center has since been informed that the 63,000 figure represents individuals, not family units
We do know that more than 200,000 individuals who are not from Mexico have been apprehended at the border, so that gives us an estimate of how many people this has turned out to be. It’s got to be in the neighborhood of 200,000 people just year, not counting last year. And more are projected for next year. According to border patrol documents, they’re expecting more than 140,000 UACs – unaccompanied juveniles to be apprehended in the next fiscal year, and, you know, probably a comparably larger number of family units as well. Now, the locations of the resettlement – again, there has been no information released on where the family units have been allowed to resettle.
Most of them were released from custody before the department started detaining them. And the reason for that was – were multiple, but one of them was that ICE didn’t have a detention facility that was appropriate for these people, despite the existence of a mass migration plan in which they knew how they wanted to and could stand up a detention facility for a situation such as this. ICE, you know, either forgot about the plan or tossed the plan or whatever – for whatever reason, is not using the plan; it closed its family detention center in Texas a couple of years before this got out of hand. So what ICE ended up doing is releasing most of the family members – some of them getting parole status.
We – they have released information on where the unaccompanied juveniles have been resettled so far, which I’ve put in the packet – a total of 37,000 of them – they’ve provided details on with the majority going to a handful of states, which are a little bit different than the usual patterns of illegal settlement here – over 5,000 in Texas, 4,000 in New York, about 4,000 in California – almost the same number in Florida as in California, and also, significant populations of almost 3,000 in Virginia and Maryland. And they’re – what they’re doing is, people are going to places where there already is existing, established communities of Central Americans who arrived before them.
The numbers, I’m sure, are going to increase next year, and the reason is that no one is being sent home, and so, our country has yet to establish an effective deterrent for more people to come here illegally through South Texas. According to news reports, there have been roughly 280 of those 200,000 new arrivals who have been deported from the country, and that’s about 280 people associated as a family unit who were deported from the center in Artesia. That’s a miniscule drop in the bucket compared to the size of the influx.
The main cost, as Mayor Kennedy indicated, to communities that are absorbing these individuals is education. And to give a sense of the sum total of what this cost is going to be, I took a look at what some of the states that are most affected have estimated for the costs of providing an education to just – and to all of the kids who have arrived in this influx. Texas estimates that it is going to be spending about $9,500 per child. And that’s a figure that was developed for their budgeting process in the legislature. Florida has estimated that its average cost for educating a child is about $8,900 a child per year, but that these unaccompanied juveniles require an investment of an additional $1,900 per child. So – and the national average – and both of those states, by the way, seem to be running a little bit less per child cost than the national average, which is more like $11,000-$12,000 per child.
So if you apply those costs to just the number of unaccompanied juveniles who have arrived just this year – which is expected to be 90,000 – that works out to about a billion dollars per year just for the ones that arrived this year, not counting previously arrivals, not counting future arrivals. It’s an enormous sum of money that American taxpayers are going to be putting out to cover the cost of education.
And again, we don’t know how many kids are in the family units. It’s got to be at least 60,000, you know, assuming one child, one parent. And it’s almost certainly much more than that. Another relatively undiscussed impact of this surge is going to be on the labor markets in our communities. How many of these individuals are going to be working and where, and what kind of jobs? We know that some of the kids in Lynn are working, particularly in the landscaping industry, as I understand. And I think it’s reasonable to assume that that’s one of the primary motivating factors for them to come here, is that they will be able to work, whether legally or illegally. What many people don’t realize is, the family units who were admitted before they started detaining some of them, because they were released as parolees into the United States, are eligible to apply for a work permit, and many of them certainly will be granted work permits while they’re here.
Work permits have really become the primary vehicle for executive amnesty. The executive branch has the authority, without restrictions from Congress, on issuing work permits. They can issue an unlimited number of them, and, you know, it has become apparent that when the president can’t issue more work visas, he turns to the work permit as an option for providing people with the ability to stay here and support themselves.
But finally, the worst unintended consequence of our failure to control this influx is the public safety consequences that are going to be a result of this. The most affected state has already quantified this, and that’s Texas. They’ve already budgeted $300 million for this year, which they had anticipated because they’re seen this surge happening over the last couple of years. They’ve had to add on an additional $17 million a month in state funds for public safety, primarily to back up the border patrol because many border patrol agents are taken off the line in order to manage the custody of the families and juveniles who are crossing.
But beyond the immediate expense of trying to contain this surge and limit the ability to criminal enterprises that are exploiting this weekly controlled border in Texas, there’s another very serious, but again, predictable, potential unintended consequence, and that is the resurgence of violent criminal street gang activity that is almost certain to result from this new influx of illegal immigrants.
And I know the mayor referred to a decline in the number of gang members in Lynn. I think it’s a pretty safe prediction that Lynn and others cities like it that have been absorbing a lot of this influx are going to see an increase in street gang activity. We know this from experience, but also know it because of changes in ICE policy that have affected their ability to do gang suppression and dismantling efforts. And it’s predictable because it’s happened before.
One of the unintended consequences of a previous wave of illegal immigration from Central America, which occurred in the ’80s and ’90s, was the emergence of a new breed of extremely vicious and unusually degenerate street gangs, and – the most notorious of which was MS-13 but also included others like 18th Street and other gangs.
MS-13 was founded by violent thugs who settled illegally decades ago in California at a time when gangs were not a major focus for law enforcement, and they were able to expand across the nation into areas that already had large illegal Salvadoran populations. A large share of the membership and leadership of MS-13 and 18th Street and certain other gangs is comprised of illegal aliens. That made them before and makes them today vulnerable to immigration enforcement in a way that they were not so vulnerable to local law enforcement or even to the FBI.
And as a result of targeted immigration enforcement activity starting in about 2005 and continuing until just a couple years ago, through a program that ICE ran known as Operation Community Shield, these gangs were depleted and weakened through the country. It was a huge success. ICE made more than 30,000 arrests of gang members across the United States. And a significant share are from the three Central American countries of the surge. And I’ve given you some statistics on those arrests nationwide in the countries of origin. We also find that a disproportionate share of the most violent street gang members and leaders and associates who are arrested do come from the Central American countries and particularly from MS-13 and 18th Street.
The success in ICE’s program was possible because of the aggressive use of immigration enforcement authorities. They were arrested sometimes just because they were here illegally. I know that sounds like a quaint, antiquated concept now for ICE to arrest someone just because they’re here illegally, but they were targeted because of their known affiliation with a criminal street gang. And mostly due to their involvement in crime and even minor crime, ICE got them off the street and prevented a lot of crime as a result. And this enabled ICE to successfully penetrate many of these – the more organized and larger street gangs.
Now, Central American gangs have evolved in many ways over the years. They’re now less flamboyant, less public, better organized, more professional, they have a lot more money, they have a lot better equipment, and that makes them even more dangerous and harder to suppress and control. And as a result, they’re even more of a threat to public order now than was the case 10 years ago.
Many of them were deported to their home country and were able to continue and expand criminal activity there. They’ve recruited a lot of new members, often through intimidation. Gang crime and especially violence is, as we know, pervasive in the three Central American countries that are the source of the surge, where they operate with near-impunity there.
But in recent months, they’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of the chaos at the border to return. And in fact, many of them are involved with the smuggling organizations, either doing the smuggling or providing security for the smugglers or discipline enforcement or whatever.
But one thing has changed: ICE is now less able to address that public safety threat posed by these gangs because of changes in immigration policies. Agents are restricted in who they can arrest. They have to wait before an individual is convicted of a serious crime before they can keep them in custody and process them for deportation. Family ties that a gang member has can trump criminal affiliations or potential threat to the public, even crimes that they’ve already committed.
Some of these gang members now have quasi-legal status, either through DACA or their status as having come here as an unaccompanied juvenile. And DHS has, frankly, inadequate screening to prevent the embedded – embedding of gang members here and enabling them to get status. And ICE policies often lead to the release of gang members who have been taken into custody, arrested and charged by some of ISE’s investigative agents. One branch of ICE is arresting them; another branch of ICE is releasing them back into the community. And gang suppression just frankly isn’t the priority that it was in years past for ICE.
All of this leads me to have grave concerns about the potential for an increase in violence and crime due to street gang activity in those areas absorbing the surge.
So I think it’s probably about time to see what you folks want to take about and take your questions, which we’re happy to do. Thank you.
MR. KRIKORIAN: So there’s a microphone. If you could wait for that and if you could identify yourself. Here – (inaudible) – up front.
Q: Hi. Penny Starr, CNS News. This is for the mayor. You were talking about the ages of the students. Can you be more specific? Are you able to determine the actual age of the students and say are some as old as 18 or even older? It sounded like you were indicating that.
MAYOR KENNEDY: We have no ability no confront the student directly and demand an accurate age. Every once in a while, we’ll be able to determine that somebody is well above the age at which they would be entitled to an education in the Lynn public schools. For example, if a student does not show up for a few days of classes, we will send our truant officers out to find out what’s going on at that home. So when they knock on the door and they say, we’re looking for so and so, and the responding person says, well, they’re at work, and then every once in a while, a person will burst out – for one example, the woman who answered the door said, he’s 35 years old, he’s not going to show up at school. So we know – we have good authority, but we cannot, per DOJ guidelines, we cannot ask them for any more verification of their age. And most of them don’t come with birth certificates anyway. All they come with is a form from the Jubilee Center that says their date of birth was 1/1/98, and we can’t go beyond that. It does become very frustrating.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Any other questions?
If you could identify yourself too, please.
Q: Thank you. I’m Dino Drudi. I’m a member of the FAIR board of advisers. And I’m also a Massachusetts original by birth. Mayor Kennedy, why haven’t towns and cities like your stood up to the federal government and the Justice Department and made them sue you for your doing your due diligence to establish the facts regarding your students? Why haven’t you asked the national congress to cut the budgets of some of these agencies that aren’t doing their jobs and redirect that money to cover the costs that the federal policies are imposing on your local government?
MAYOR KENNEDY: Well, actually, one of the reasons why I am down here in Washington is to meet with some of the staff members of members of Congress to ask them to find solutions to help communities like mine. I can’t speak for other communities. I don’t know why they haven’t stood up. I think the superintendent and I finally just reached our breaking point. I’ve – I had gotten a very good hold of the city’s finances when I became mayor 4 ½ years ago. We went from a Baa1 bond rating to an A+ bond rating. At one point I had about $16.5 million in free cash for my city. I had a really solid financial backing for the city. And the in the last couple of years, it has all fallen apart. And it has really frustrated me. So I am down here. This trip I’m meeting with some staff members of congresspeople because they’re on break. But I am planning another trip in the next probably five or six weeks to come back down and meet directly with the congressional – senators and representatives to find out what we can do to assist communities like Lynn in getting the money to pay for this increase in population.
Q: Hi, my name is Mike Maxey. I’m from Fairfax County, basically a citizen and also a retired foreign service officer. I’ve spent six years in Central American and another five years in South America. So I’m aware of some of the issues there and what’s causing some of the up in migration.
One of the issues here, though, is the response by the federal government. And a specific issue that we’re looking at in Fairfax County is Title 1 resources. And I’m wondering, what’s been your experience with Title 1, which is basically based on a poverty index, a self-reported need for free and reduced lunches. Is that helping? Is it increasing? Is that going to be part of your discussion with Congress?
MS. KENNEDY: Well, Lynn has always been historically a lower-income community – a real blue-collar community. And we have about 81 percent free or reduced lunches as far as our student population goes. So the Title 1 impact really hasn’t been significant simply because we were at such a level even before this influx.
One issue that I failed to bring up in my initial presentation regarding the schools – and I know this is more at the state level but I wonder if Virginia has something similar – we have a Massachusetts comprehensive test for students in the fourth, seventh and 10th grades that students are required to pass. And they are expected to take and become advanced or proficient on their MCAS, as it’s called, by their second year in the school system.
And our funding – our state funding can get jeopardized if our students don’t score advanced or proficient. Now, when I tell you that these people being placed in the ninth grade, and they’re illiterate in both English and Spanish, the odds of us getting them to pass a 10th grade math examination are negligible. So I’m expecting that this is going to hurt the city of Lynn’s standing with the Massachusetts Department of Education.
The other issue concerning the schools that I did want to bring up is our dropout rate. Now, the way Massachusetts calculates this is if Joe Smith is a student in our system and he drops out in April, takes a landscaping job, comes back in October, drops out the following April – that counts for us as two dropouts, even though it’s one person. And we’ve actually had one of these students drop out four times already. And when our dropout rates go up, that also affects the city’s standing with the Massachusetts State Department of Education.
So we see a lot of problems coming down the road, as well as the ones that we’re dealing with, which are primarily financial right now. And I’m glad all of you have taken an interest in this. But I’m acting, I guess, in a way, as a beacon or a warning to let people know that these are the consequences of the policy that the federal government has pursued.
Q: I have two questions. Neil Munro at Daily Caller. Does this impact prospects of economic development in Lynn? And what do the government officials tell you, what words do they use when you come up and say: I can’t check their age. What are you doing to us?
MS. KENNEDY: Well, like I said, the ICE officials that I’ve met with have told me that they’re doing a really good job resettling these people, but I don’t think that they’re really keeping track of where they’re resettling them. We’re not getting any firm answers. We’re not – we’re getting reassurances that feel more like pats on the heads, like just go about your business. And in fact, I’ve talked about the number of unaccompanied minors that have been resettled here in the city of Lynn, once they get resettled and they’re claimed by a sponsor, those sponsors can be illegal themselves.
But those sponsors then become conferred with a type of protected status because they are obligated to have control over that unaccompanied minor until their status hearing date. Those status hearing dates are being pushed back through 2017 right now because of the backlog. So we haven’t really gotten any answers from any federal officials as to what their long-term plan is for helping out the communities where the resettlement is occurring.
Q: So economic development –
MS. KENNEDY: And the economic development. I really haven’t seen any kind of impact on our economic development. Lynn is, as I said, a poor community. It’s an old factory community. We have had actually a positive impact on the prices of our rental units and the availability of our rental units, especially in the desirable section of town. The prices have gone to the point where there are bidding wars when they come on the market. The stock in apartments is really scarce right now. So I guess in that way there’s this kind of perverse positive effect on the economic development.
As far as business development, we’ve added a couple of businesses that have – one that’s going to generate 500 full- and part-time jobs in the community and another one that has generated 200 jobs for the community. So we haven’t really seen any direct effect on the economic development prospects in the city of Lynn.
Q: You just mentioned – (inaudible) – prices going up.
MS. KENNEDY: Yes.
Q: So are people in the town glad to see the prices go up?
MS. KENNEDY: (Laughs.) No. No, the landlords are happy that the prices are going up. But we have – I guess as a consequence of that as well, the scarcity, we have started to see – although we can’t directly confirm this – that apartments are being subdivided, which does create a public safety hazard for the community. One reason that we know this is happening is recently, about two or three weeks ago, we had a three-alarm fire in two multifamily homes. It stated in one and spread to the second.
And when the firefighters got to the third floor of the second building, they were finding it difficult to get into the bedrooms and find out whether there were people trapped in there because there were locks placed on those bedroom doors. They in effect became subdivided apartments. And that apartment effectively was used as a rooming house.
So we don’t know how many more of those apartments are out there. I would love to be able to just knock on doors and take a look around, but I’m prohibited from just bursting into people’s apartments and checking that out. And unfortunately we found out about it when the fire occurred. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. But it could have posed a real danger for either people trapped inside those illegally locked rooms or the firefighters that were wasting valuable time trying to look and check to make sure everybody had gotten out safely.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yes, sir.
Q: Dana Milbank with the post. You mentioned alleged teenagers with gray hair and wrinkles. Can you say how many there are? Have you seen them yourself? Are there photographs? Are there names?
MS. KENNEDY: I have seen their applications – their processing forms that have come from the Jubilee Center. And I would say, of the 30 or 40 forms that I have seen, maybe seven or eight of them clearly, to me, looked older than the 17- or 18-years old that they were – they were claiming to be.
Q: So this is from photographs on –
MS. KENNEDY: Photographs. I have not personally seen these people because by the time I have become aware of them, they have been placed into the schools. And I suppose I could ask the superintendent if I could take a walk over the school system once school starts. For us, it starts Wednesday after Labor Day. And maybe I’ll be able to get some first-hand, up-close looks at these students. But clearly, from some of the photographs, these people are adults.
Q: Can you give the legal/illegal breakdown of the new students enrolling over the last few years?
MS. KENNEDY: No, that – as I said, that’s one of the problems with these figures that I’ve been given, is that when I do get this out of country admission sheet, it doesn’t tell me how many are refugees, how many are illegal immigrants, including unaccompanied minors, and how many have arrived in the community legally. But I can tell you just based on my conversation with the superintendent, that virtually all of those ninth-grade Guatemalan admissions are the unaccompanied minors.
Another thing about Lynn, we are projected to be the number-one resettlement community for refugees coming into the state of Massachusetts. Lynn is projected to get 202 new refugees this summer. And that, opposed to the second-largest city in Massachusetts, Springfield, is getting 58 and Boston’s getting only 19.
MAYOR KENNEDY: So we have –
MR. KRIKORIAN: And these are not Central Americans. This is through the regular refugee program.
MAYOR KENNEDY: Right, right. So we have a multitude of problems, but one –
Q: Right, right. So those are by definition legal immigrants ––
MAYOR KENNEDY: Yes.
Q: – and you don’t know how many of these others are illegal immigrants. Now given that and the fact that the surge that you had actually predates the real surge that we’ve had in unaccompanied minors at the border, why are you so sure it’s related to that, as opposed to these other problems?
MAYOR KENNEDY: Because the start of our surge predated the national so-called – you know, when the national stage first became aware of this. As I said, in – through 2012 we had only three – let me see – three ninth graders from Guatemala in 2011 and 2012. By 2013 it was 56, I believe, and then in 2014 it was 126. So it’s – that was clearly the start of a trend. It was not any new factor that was introduced that was – you know, that was complicating those figures. And again, we know that a lot of these unaccompanied children are coming through the Jubilee Center, and the paperwork that they’re coming up with is from the Jubilee Center.
Q: Do you know how many you’ve gotten through the Jubilee Center?
MAYOR KENNEDY: I don’t have the exact figure right now. I could get that.
And by the way, if any of you have additional questions that you’d like me to answer that I don’t have the answers for right now, you can send me an email. The email address to use is [email protected]. I’ll be back at work tomorrow, and I’ll be able to start answering any other questions you might have. I’ll have more access to research and be able to contact the school department to get any other information you might want.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s take a couple more questions so that you don’t get emails. (Laughter.)
Did you have something, Jessica, before –
MS. VAUGHAN: I was just going to add that there were some photographs of some of the individuals claiming to be juveniles who arrived in Lynn that were published. So the –
Q: (From a few ?) years ago?
MS. VAUGHAN: No, this –
MAYOR KENNEDY: A couple months –
MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah, a couple months.
MAYOR KENNEDY: July, I think.
MS. VAUGHAN: I can tell you where to get those.
Q: (So that ?) –
MR. KRIKORIAN: OK.
Q: Matt Boyle from Breitbart. I wanted to ask you, what is the effect of this on Lynn’s citizens and on legal immigrants that are there? And are they aware of this and where are the – what is the community’s thoughts of this, the surge that’s happened?
MAYOR KENNEDY: Most of them are very afraid to speak publicly about it because they don’t want to be branded as a racist.
However, I can tell you that through the emails I have received and through the personal conversations I have had with the individuals in Lynn, they are very concerned about the number of people who are coming in. They want to see it stopped. They’re glad that I’m speaking up about it. And even the legal immigrants are very frustrated that they had to wait eight, 10 years and spend, in some cases, thousands of dollars to come to the country legally. They don’t feel that it’s fair that people who are coming across and throwing themselves at the mercy of ICE are being able to get resettled more quickly and more cheaply than they were able to do.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir. Here.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Just wait for the microphone. And then we’ll take one more question after that.
Q: Yes. I’m Jose Diaz with MundoFOX. Other than economic compensation for, you know, your budget, what specific changes in immigration policy are you advocating before congressional staff?
MAYOR KENNEDY: Well, as I said, there’s nothing specific. I will leave that to the policymakers at the federal level. But it – simply allowing all of the – well, not all of, but to have a direct line from the resettlement centers, such as the Jubilee Center, to the city of Lynn, without compensating the city of Lynn for that direct line, I think, is unfair. I think, for example, if Lynn has experienced an 8 percent increase in its school population, maybe there has to be a way to redirect students so that until every surrounding community has an 8 percent increase in their student population, then there’s a moratorium placed on having the students enter the Lynn school system, just to balance it out. That might be the fair way to do it.
Having immigration law changes might be the way to do it. Having a tougher border security might be the way to do it. And I’m not here to advocate for the – you know, the value of one approach over the other. I’m simply making people aware that there are communities far away from the border that are feeling the economic impact of the policies that the federal officials have in place currently, and I’m asking them to look at them, to acknowledge the impact that they’re having on communities far, far away from the border and do something to change it. But as far as specifics, I leave that to the experts.
MR. KRIKORIAN: One last –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Over here. Go ahead. Yeah.
MS. VAUGHAN: I was just going to add that some experts in the form of Department of Homeland Security officials, the Border Patrol and others of us who have studied this program over the years think that the appropriate response is to address the surge by deterring the continued entry and resettlement of people who are coming, that in – you know, we know that certainly the Border Patrol and – believes and has said and has written that when there are no consequences for illegal entry and when people are allowed to rejoin family members who are already living here illegally and when people who are here illegally are not subject to immigration enforcement unless they’re convicted of a very serious crime, and when our local governments create sanctuary policies – for example, to prevent local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with ICE – in all – those are all the conditions that lead people to believe that they will be able to successfully resettle here and often with our government’s help, and so that the answer is to, you know, enforce the laws we have, use the tools we have to turn off the faucet of illegal entry rather than trying to redistribute funding to help out all the communities that are forced to absorb it.
MR. KRIKORIAN: We’re going to have to – I want to respect people’s time. We’re going to have to – what – do we have one more question?
Q: One more.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Very quickly.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And we’ll have quick answers. And then we want to wrap it up. Go ahead.
Q: My name’s Melanie Oubre from NumbersUSA, and during my research on places like the Jubilee Center, I found that they described their UAC programs as placing children in foster care as one of the main priorities. Have – do either of you have any insight to the foster care program? Have you talked to anyone who’s been a foster parent? Are they Americans? The figures? The process? Anything?
MAYOR KENNEDY: I have not. That’s a quick answer.
MR. : OK. We’re good. (Laughter.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: OK, thank you, folks. I’m not sure whether the mayor or Jessica will be around to be accosted afterwards, but you can always try. And I appreciate everybody – (end of audio).