By Penny Starr
The mayor of Lynn, Mass. says that some of the illegal aliens from Guatemala who are enrolled in her city’s public schools are adults with graying hair and “more wrinkles than I have.”
“They are not all children,” Judith Flanagan Kennedy told reporters at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
“One of the things that we did notice when we were processing some of these students coming in was that they were adults,” she said.
She added that the federal government will not allow school officials to verify their ages, even though one of the students turned out to be 35 years old.
Kennedy said that the majority of those from Guatemala who are enrolling in the Lynn Public Schools claim to be between 14 and 17 years of age.
“But there were people with graying temples, hair around the temples,” said Kennedy, adding that although she did not see these individuals in person, she saw photographs of them in registration paperwork. “There were people with more wrinkles than I have around their eyes.”
However, the school district was directed by the federal government not to verify the age of the foreign enrollees, Kennedy said.
“We were told through a directive from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that we were not to question or verify – attempt to verify these ages,” Kennedy stated at the press conference, hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).
Kennedy said that she and the school superintendent in Lynn wanted to know why the number of students from Guatemala “almost doubled” from 56 who enrolled during the 2012-13 school year to 101 during the 2013-14 school year.
When CNSNews.com asked whether she could be more specific about how they determined the ages of those enrolled, Kennedy replied that while school personnel cannot ask for age verification, they have confirmed that some of them are in fact adults.
“We have no ability to confront a student directly and demand an accurate age,” Kennedy said. “Every once in a while, we’ll be able to determine that someone is well above the age at which they would be entitled to an education in the Lynn Public Schools.
“For example, if a student does not show up for a few days of classes, we will send our truant officers out to find out what’s going on at that home,” Kennedy explained.
“One example: the woman who answered [the] door said, ‘He’s 35 years old — he’s not going to show up at school….But we cannot, per DOJ guidelines, we cannot ask them for any more verification of age,” Kennedy said.
“It does become very frustrating,” she added.
In May, the Department of Justice issued a statement to public schools reminding them that they are legally required to enroll all children, regardless of their immigration status.
“You must ensure that you do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and that students are not barred from enrolling in public schools at the elementary and secondary level on the basis of their own citizenship or immigration status of that of their parents or guardians,” the DOJ statement read.
However, under federal law, “the term ‘child’ means any person within the age limits for which the State provides free public education.” In Massachusetts, those between the ages of 3 and 21 are eligible to attend public school.
At the press conference, Kennedy said that the economic impact on American cities like Lynn, which is located about 10 miles north of Boston, includes an increase in cost to taxpayers for educating these overage students and for providing them with health services, including vaccinations that are required for all children attending U.S. public schools.
But the federal government has not said whether cities and school districts will be reimbursed for these increased costs, according to Kennedy.
She described Lynn as a blue-collar “factory” town with a diverse population of about 90,000. It is the ninth largest city in Massachusetts and has the fifth largest school district in the state.
As reported earlier by CNSNews.com, the Administration for Children & Families’ Office of Refugee Resettlement said that by the end of July, 37,477 unaccompanied alien children have been placed with relatives or other sponsors around the country and are entitled to attend U.S. public schools. Of that number, 989 were sent to Massachusetts.