STATEN ISLAND - Thousands of migrant children are set to join classes across the New York City public school system this week, but will not have to adhere to the same vaccination requirements as other students.
The news is drawing criticism from officials on Staten Island who say that the issue shows a clear double standard.
All children must be immunized to attend school in New York Public Schools. But this school year, there are a lot of new students. Over 100,000 migrants from Central and South America, Hati and oversees arrived in the city last spring, bringing with them more than 20,000 children.
New York State requires students to show proof of vaccination within 14 days of school starting. That is not the case in the city, where all students must show vaccination by the first day of school.
But the city is using recommendations from the CDC-- which specifically grants immigrants a 30-day exemption only if parents sign an agreement that they are aware the vaccines are required.
"If you're going to impose a standard on ordinary citizens, then that same standard should be imposed on individuals from 120 different countries and want to show up on day one for school," said Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella at a news conference Saturday, where a handful of Staten Island leaders and residents stood in front of P.S. 038, arguing that migrant children who can't prove they've been inoculated against diseases like Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis B, Measles and Chickenpox, shouldn't be allowed to start school next week.
"Every single day is New York City telling us the elected officials and the community that they're stuck in a difficult situation, they tell the federal government do not bring more migrants," said Michael Tannousis, an NY State Assemblyman. "But what do they do? They make it as easy as possible for migrants to come here and make it as easy as possible for migrants to come into the schools."
The Department of Education said this week, students in temporary housing do not need to show proof of vaccination but have 30 days to get inoculated. The department is assisting, connecting migrant families with hospitals, and deploying mobile clinics.
"So, we are working aggressively to get students vaccinated in a timely manner," said Melissa Aviles-Ramos, Chief of Staff NYC DOE.
Migrant Advocacy group Artists-Athletes-Activists responded to the concern, telling FOX 5, "The anger we're seeing demonstrated against migrants is misdirected energy and the borough president should redirect that energy towards the city instead of adding fuel to the anti-immigrant rhetoric," said Founder Power Malu.
The Department of Education is confident it can get all the kids caught up on their scheduled vaccinations in 30 days.
Medical experts say parents need not be concerned over public safety.
"If their children are vaccinated, their children are protected," said Dr. Suraj Saggar, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Holy Name.
FOX 5 asked the borough president, what's behind the urgency of his concern, especially when he represents a borough where some people were very vocal about pushing back against covid vaccine mandates.
"If you're going to hold families, citizens of Staten Island and New York City to get vaccinated and if they don't, they can't go to school," Fossella said.
Then we're just suggesting that the migrant children be held to the same standard. And right now, they're not. They're being treated better and differently than ordinary folks."