Councilmembers from two committees favored allocating about $5 million to strengthen Montgomery County’s support for children coming across the southern border to live and attend school here.
Between January and May, 473 young people came to live with extended family or sponsors in Montgomery County, according to staff with the county, MCPS and several non-profits. The majority of those resettling in Montgomery County are from Guatemala. The staff members believe that number will continue to rise in the coming months.
According to Diego Uriburu, the executive director at Identity, “They come here with nothing. They come here pregnant. They come here sick. They come here with not a penny in their pockets.” If they are not supported they will be recruited to join gangs or be victims of violence, he said.
Celia Rivas of Catholic Charities said many of the young immigrants have been abandoned by one parent, have experienced gun and gang violence and been led into drug abuse. Others have stayed inside most of their childhood, too scared to even step outside, she said.
Much of the several hour discussion revolved around how best to smooth the way for these young people make a new life here. Further discussion with the county and Montgomery County Public Schools will continue after the council’s August recess.
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, who recently visited the border, stressed that the new residents will need plenty of support. What he saw in a camp in Mexico, a mere two blocks from Texas ,was shocking, he said. “They were in complete desperation, living in tents.” Albornoz added, “You understand why families make this decision, why they risk everything, and I mean everything, to cross the border.”
County Department of Health and Human Services Director Raymond Crowel agreed, noting that people who are coming to the United States have experienced horrible things, both in their native country and while waiting at the border. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to help them heal,” he said.
While Montgomery County officials do not have a role in the national immigration crisis, they can assist those living in the county, Councilmember Craig Rice said. “Let’s do our part.”
Councilmember Nancy Navarro called on officials to not just individually help the new arrivals but to also set up lasting structural supports. “How do you not understand that this is God’s work we have to do here?” she said.
DHHS Chief of Children, Youth and Family Services JoAnn Barnes said the county needs to strengthen interagency coordination, enhance support systems and strengthen education and school-based services. As part of this strategy, the committee members discussed creating two new positions – a newcomer coordinator who would work out of DHHS and a transition counselor for newcomers who would work for MCPS.
They also agreed to allocate about $300,000 to cover four new positions with the Street Outreach Network and to lease two vans.
Despite the hundreds of young people resettling in Montgomery County, only 64 international students signed up to attend MCPS. Plans include reaching out to these families to help them enroll, officials said.
A lot must be done, said Rice. “This is just the starting point. We are going to have to build up our resources network.”