Chancellor Fariña visits Queens school to reassure families after immigration agents came knocking

New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña was on hand to welcome families Monday morning at P.S. 58, the Queens school visited Thursday by federal immigration agents. The agents inquired about a fourth-grade student, but did not have a warrant and were turned away by school officials.

While it now appears the agents were not seeking to question the fourth-grader, Fariña is clearly mindful of how the agents’ visit could impact immigrant families already skittish about President Trump’s immigration reforms. Elsewhere in the country, immigration crackdowns have led parents to keep children home from school.

“The best place for children to be is in their local schools,” said Fariña in a video statement filmed at P.S. 58. “In our schools, we protect our students and our families, and want to reassure parents that no information is ever given to any federal agent” without a “special process.” Thursday’s incident is still being investigated, she said.

A statement from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services tweeted Monday clarified the reason for the agents’ visit. It was “part of an administration inquiry pertaining to an immigration benefit request,” the statement read. “At no time did the officers ask to see or speak with the student, who was not the subject of the administrative inquiry.”

Later on Monday, the Department of Homeland Security released its own statement which seemed to contradict the city’s version of events. “The USCIS officers were in plain clothes, properly identified themselves and presented credentials and business cards,” it stated. “They spoke to school administrators and left at the conclusion of the conversation. They were not barred from the property nor asked to leave.”

Still, the swift reaction to the incident by city officials — including the mayor, City Council speaker and Queens borough president — speaks to the heightened anxiety around these issues and the city’s desire to preempt those concerns.

In March, the city updated its guidance to principals on immigrant protections, explaining that non-local law enforcement officials are barred from entering schools without warrants except when imminent harm is expected.

The chancellor said Monday that the city would be training everyone in schools on the protocol “from the school custodian to the highest levels of school administration,” and would send a letter to principals today reinforcing that message.

Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Monday to discuss anti-terror funding and other safety measures.

They also discussed the incident at P.S. 58. According to a statement from the mayor’s office, “They pledged to work together to ensure that the DHS investigative work in question was performed remotely and without the presence of federal immigration agents in New York City schools.”

Update: This story has been updated with a statement from the Department of Homeland Security and a statement from the mayor’s office.