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Syria in Spotlight, but Influx of Kids from Central America Continues

Jason Starr of the NYCLU gave a talk at the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island Wednesday about the educational and legal needs of several thousand children from Central America who have arrived since 2012. Courtesy: HWCLI
Jason Starr of the NYCLU gave a talk at the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island Wednesday about the educational and legal needs of several thousand children from Central America who have arrived since 2012. Courtesy: HWCLI
September 17, 2015

NEW YORK – While the national spotlight is focused on the great needs of Syrian refugees in Europe, unaccompanied children from Central America continue to flow into the U.S., and New York is a prime destination – as detailed at a meeting Wednesday.

Jason Starr, Nassau chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says the legal story for these children is complicated because immigration proceedings are civil matters, so no lawyer is provided like in criminal proceedings.

He says the New York Civil Liberties Union doesn’t want to see any of these children or their families in deportation proceedings without legal counsel.

"They need representation in immigration court,” he stresses. “They need representation in Family Court. There is an incredible amount of unmet legal need, and there are only a few organizations out here that are providing legal services."

New York, Houston and several counties in California are taking in the majority of unaccompanied minors.

Starr says about 3,500 children came to Long Island between 2012 and 2014, and more are still coming, although the pace of arrivals appears to have slowed.

Starr, who addressed the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island on Wednesday, says many of these children arrive speaking only their native language, and that means they need help from local schools.

"They need, you know, appropriate educational programming that both facilitates language acquisition, but also makes sure that they get the rich content that's necessary to be prepared for work, also be prepared for post-secondary education," he explains.

Starr says New York, California and Texas all have large Central American communities. He points out that most of the arriving children are being placed with family members, or close friends – and that is a prime indicator of success for how well most refugees and immigrants assimilate into the United States.


Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY