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Chelsea officials, activists meet about child immigrants

Nate Homan | 7/16/2014, 11:46 a.m.
Chelsea social service agencies, city officials strategize on how to provide services for influx of young undocumented immigrants.
Photo: Superintendent Dr. Mary Bourque, Cristina Aguilera, Organizing Director of MIRA Collation and Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative at the roundtable meeting. (Banner Photo)

The woman is currently in an ICE program, and is required to wear an ankle bracelet that tracks her location, similar to the ones required for people on house arrest. She is required to check in with ICE agents in Burlington each week. These bracelets are for adults only and are not put on children.

“From the school department’s lenses, we’ve had a steady stream for about 3 years of immigrants coming from these particular countries into the schools,” Mary Bourque, superintendent of the Chelsea Public Schools said. “It has evolved from a stream to a current from about January to the end of the school year.”

“Our students need vaccinations. We need to make sure that we are aligned with Beth Israel and MGH in making sure our students have initial physicals and vaccinations, which are on a three-wave cycle.

“For us in the school department, there are obviously the wrap-around services and social services. We have increased the number of social workers and we need to continue to increase those numbers. The acclimation to a new country is a difficult process, but there’s also the trauma of the journey.”

Bourque said that another issue is the academic gap and the fact that while these students may be teenagers, some have not been in a classroom for many years. In response, the Chelsea schools have hired two new teachers, one at the high school, one at the middle school, for shelter immersion. These age demographics are the most common among new arrivals.

“We also have to remember that a second grade education in Honduras is not the same as a second grade education in Massachusetts.”

“What we need right now is people and we need resources,” Cristina Aguilera, organizing director of the MIRA Coalition said. “We need skills that people can provide, if they are an attorney or a member of a church or any organization. The issue is much larger than just the children, but right now we want to focus on them. We want to support them as best we can in this situation.”

While the onset of community-wide preparation is in the preliminary stage, each group at the roundtable stressed the need to strip the issue of its’ political climate and address the situation on a human level.

“The message that we’re saying to all families is this: The schools are not a political entity. It is nonnegotiable. Do not bring the politics into our schools. Our job is to welcome every student that crosses over our threshold and move them along towards that trajectory of success,” Bourque said.

“This needs to stop being a political debate,” Aguilera said. “These are children. This is about their suffering in their native countries and we need to make sure that the mainstream understands the compelling and difficult situations they are in.”