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Schools Could See Fewer Unaccompanied Minors This Fall

The number of unaccompanied school-age children from Central America arriving at the United States' southern border has declined significantly from this time last year, a top federal Department of Health and Human Services administrator told members of Congress.

The decline follows a surge in 2014 during which tens of thousands of children from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico sought to enter the United States along the country's southern border.

During the 2014 fiscal year, the Department of Homeland Security referred 57,496 children to the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that cares for children once they are apprehended at the border.

The Department of Homeland Security referred fewer than 18,000 unaccompanied children to Health and Human Services during the first eight months of fiscal year 2015, said Mark Greenberg, the agency's acting assistant secretary for children and families.

The number of arrivals in May alone was down by more than 60 percent.

The "numbers are down significantly from last year, but still historically high," Greenberg said.

Many of the youth coming from Central America likely will relocate to K-12 school districts where established immigrant communities already exist. That's why many districts are likely keeping an eye on the forecasted dip in arrivals.

Last summer's influx taxed the resources of many of the school systems that welcomed new students who entered the United States illegally; and many of them were English-language learners. Under federal law, the students are entitled to a free public education regardless of their immigration status.

But while districts can estimate how many new students they will be absorbing from the border crisis, many won't know the full scope of the necessary resources until students show up. With fewer students arriving at their doorsteps, the districts and other state and federal agencies could be better prepared to meet their needs.

The influx "presents multiple challenges because of uncertainties about how many children will arrive and when. The U.S. government has continued to take steps to deter families and children from making the dangerous journey to the United States in the first place," Greenberg said in his testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Immigration officials from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security also testified at the Tuesday hearing.

"To be clear, the humanitarian influx is a seasonal challenge, and we are still in the season when the influx occurred last year. Nevertheless, I am confident that we will not see a repeat of last year's unprecedented numbers this year," said Philip Miller, the assistant director of field operations, enforcement, and removal operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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