BY JON CRONIN
Agents from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) paid a visit to Maspeth’s PS 58 in search of a fourth-grade student last week, but were turned away, officials said.
Some Queens leaders and media outlets had originally reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has been carrying out arrests of illegal immigrants in Queens during the past few months, had visited the school on May 11. Immigration agents were looking to confirm the enrollment of a student at the school, a spokeswoman for USCIS said.
“While I cannot discuss the details of the case, I can confirm that two USCIS officials visited an elementary school in Maspeth as part of an administrative inquiry pertaining to an immigration benefit request,” said Katie Tichacek, a public affairs officer for USCIS. “Although school visits are not routine in these circumstances, they are not unprecedented. I must emphasize that the purpose of the visit was to verify certain facts about the student’s enrollment in relation to a request for an immigration benefit. At no time did the officers ask to see or speak with the student, who was not the subject of the administrative inquiry.”
On Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña visited the school to greet parents and allay fears, insisting that “schools are a safe place to be.” She said that city school officials are being trained in how to deal with federal agents who attempt to enter a school. She said that in the future, agents would have to wait on the sidewalk until a warrant or paperwork can be reviewed by the administration. She added that the situation is still under investigation.
Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs, said at a press conference at PS 58 that federal agents cannot enter city property without having the required paperwork.
“I’m glad they didn’t let him in because, obviously, this was not an ICE agent,” said Nick Comaianni, Community District Education Council 24’s president.
He added that he believes if there was a circumstance in which an ICE agent came to a school, it would likely be to reunite a student with parents who were already in custody.
The incident will be discussed at next week’s CDEC 24 meeting at PS 58 which will be held at 6 p.m. The superintendent of the school district will be in attendance.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said she was disturbed by the agents’ visit to the school.
“As a mother, I am deeply troubled and horrified at this attempt on the part of federal immigration agents to reach any child in our schools,” Katz said. “PS 58 officials did the right thing by following proper protocols of the city administration, stopping the agents at the door and protecting their students. All schools must remain a safe space, where children’s safety is paramount. Queens schools are to be off limits to federal immigration agents.”
And U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said that she believed the visit is evidence of a trend.
“During a community discussion on immigration at the Jamaica Muslim Center, I again criticized the lack of consistency and standards in which agents enforce immigration policies at our airports and borders, and how they randomly pop up at courts and hospitals,” Meng said. “Now, unfortunately, this has extended to our schools.”