Nearly two hundred families with immigrant children had lined up outside a school registration facility in DeKalb County Monday by the time officials arrived around 7:30 a.m., a reminder of the crowd that swamped the building Friday.
“We got here and there was a long line,” said Sandra Nunez, who runs the school district’s International Welcome Center. People camped outside the building from Thursday night to Friday morning, apparently because of a rumor that if they didn’t register by then their kids wouldn’t get into school this year. Nunez said facility workers heard that falsehood repeated by numerous families. In reality, the district registers students as they arrive year round, though school started Monday in DeKalb so late registrants are missing class time.
Nunez said the district registered about 300 immigrant students last week. The time-consuming process of testing and checking medical and other documents limits daily capacity to about 60 new students, she said. Early Monday, officials handed out about 180 sequentially-numbered cards. Those with the first 60 cards were to be processed that day, and the rest were asked to return Tuesday or Wednesday. But new students kept trickling in as the morning progressed.
Kimberly Knight is hosting an exchange student from France and arrived late in the morning. She left after 11 a.m. clutching a card with the number “14” and a note to return Thursday. She faulted herself for the tardy registration, saying she shouldn’t have waited until the last minute to file the paperwork. “The system is probably completely overloaded,” she said, adding that the staff were “very kind and polite.” Knight works at Agnes Scott College and plans to take her 15-year-old charge to the French department to mingle with college students and do some reading.
Officials have no way of knowing whether the rush on the center has any connection to the national humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, where children have been crossing without their parents. School officials are not allowed to ask for immigration documents. “We don’t know their immigration status,” Nunez said. She said, though, that there does not seem to be a change in the proportion of Spanish-speaking immigrants registering for school. The center has been open for much of the summer, registering nearly 900 students, about half of them since July 29. Another 300 or so were registered at elementary schools during spring registration drives and at a high school at the start of summer.
The center is new. It opened late last summer, so there is no comparison registration figure for last year, when much of the processing took place within schools instead. However, DeKalb typically registers about 2,000 new immigrants a year, and the tally for this school year is about 1,300 so far.