Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said today that she “will certainly be seeking answers” after an agent from the the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services allegedly showed up at a Maspeth elementary school seeking a fourth grader—and blasted the “lack of consistency and standards” in the execution of immigration policies.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Education told the Observer that an agent from USCIS went to P.S. 58 The School of Heroes—which is in Meng’s district—inquiring about a fourth grade student on Thursday and was turned away. Meng said that P.S. 58 officials “did the right thing” by repulsing the immigration agent from the premises, saying that schools should be a “safe and welcoming environment” for all students regardless of their immigration status or the status of their families.
“This incident raises many questions and we will certainly be seeking answers in the coming days,” Meng said in a statement. “Just yesterday 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. Now unfortunately, this has extended to our schools.”
In March, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal announced an official set of protocols for how schools should react in the event that federal immigration authorities show up on their properties.
“All students, regardless of immigration status, are welcome in NYC public schools, and parents should rest assured that we will do everything on our power to protect students, staff and families,” Fariña said in a statement provided to the Observer. “The federal agent was turned away—we’re looking into this incident and are providing schools with additional information on our protocol and more trainings.”
Late Saturday afternoon, mayoral spokesman Eric Phillips announced that the mayor had been formally briefed on the matter.
When a journalist said that it seemed unlikely that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked a fourth grader at random and that it was “odd for the mayor to release such fragmented info,” Phillips tweeted that it was “not as odd” as an agent showing up at a school asking about a fourth grader.
Phillips also said that his office did not know why the agent was trying to speak with the child, and noted that he did not have a warrant. The spokesman added that the mayor’s team had not yet heard anything from the federal government about the matter.
Phillips said that the city has “inquiries in,” led by Agarwal, who confirmed that the city had reached out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Agarwal noted that USCIS and ICE have traditionally treated schools, houses of worship and public demonstrations as “sensitive locations” safe from arrest or harassment.
The stop occurred against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration enforcement agenda. That agenda has included temporarily-blocked executive orders barring entry to people from Muslim-majority countries and withholding funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants, a proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border, expanding immigration detention and apprehension of wanted foreign nationals in and outside civil and criminal courtrooms.
The city’s updated protocol instructs schools to keep federal agents out of the building unless they have a valid and pressing warrant for an individual on campus, to quickly relay information about the nature of the requests and paperwork and to immediately call attorneys from the DOE.
At the time, the mayor called the new protocols “a deepening of the policy,” laying out a specific process to corroborate a federal warrant—and an expansion of New York City’s so-called “sanctuary city” policies, which offer a haven to nonviolent undocumented immigrants. Some advocates and elected officials, however, have said that people can still be deported if they are arrested for low-level offenses.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, for her part, also said she was pleased with how P.S. 58 officials reacted and said that parents shouldn’t have to worry about “unauthorized persons or entities reaching their children while in school.”
“All schools must remain a safe space, where children’s safety is paramount,” Katz said in a statement. “The city’s protocols help instill confidence throughout school communities and prevent widespread disruption and fear. Queens schools are to be off-limits to federal immigration agents.”
In February, ICE sweeps on Staten Island netted five Mexican nationals, coinciding with immigration authorities arresting hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least six states following an executive order Trump signed the previous month.