According to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, the officials were turned away at the door. The incident is still under investigation.
Farina and Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), visited PS 58 on Monday morning.
“We’re here today to ensure parents that our schools are safe and that our students will be protected to the utmost degree,” Farina said. “Sending your children to school is the most important thing you do as a parent and we assure you it’s a safe place to be.”
According to the chancellor, school protocol says that when anyone comes into a building and shows information, he or she is asked to wait outside. Then the school notifies lawyers with the Department of Education (DOE), who then notify immigration services.
“This was probably our first test case, I think we ran through it pretty well,” she said. “We expect to make sure everyone in the city is trained, not just the administrators.”
Agarwal said schools are city property, which is why they have a protocol to handle that type of situation. She said the city has been in touch with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to better understand what happened.
“Federal law enforcement cannot get into city property, and schools in particular, without having the right paperwork,” she said. “The schools are the safest place to be.”
On Monday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with DHS Secretary John Kelly, who confirmed his commitment to enforcement protocols that don’t involve sweeps or visits to hospitals, places worship or schools, the mayor’s office said.
Kelly said the agents were not there for an “enforcement action,” and that DHS doesn’t target schools. In published reports, an Immigration Services spokesperson said the agents were verifying enrollment and never asked to speak to the student.
According to the mayor’s office, de Blasio “made it clear” that the agents’ presence was not conducive to a learning environment.
They pledged to work together to ensure DHS’s investigative work won’t involve sending agents to schools.
Elected officials condemned the incident over the weekend.
Borough President Melinda Katz said as a mother she was “deeply troubled and horrified” at the agent’s attempt to seek a child in a school.
“No parent should have to worry about any unauthorized persons or entities reaching their children while in school,” Katz said. “All schools must remain a safe space, where children’s safety is paramount. Queens schools are to be off-limit to federal immigration agents.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng sent a letter to the acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
She requested clarification of USCIS policies regarding sending agents to sensitive locations, information about the circumstances of last Thursday’s in-person visit, and if the agent was given approval to enter the school.
“As the mother of two public school students here in Queens, one of which is also in the fourth-grade, I remain deeply concerned about USCIS agents showing up to PS 58,” Meng said in a statement. “We want to know about the agency’s policies, protocols and circumstances that led to the agents entering the school, and I eagerly await answers to these important questions.”