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Jonatan’s Story

Jonatan, an immigrant student from Guatemala, needed assistance enrolling in an appropriate high school.

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Who We Serve

Immigrant Students and English Language Learners

Immigrant Students and English Language Learners

Advocates for Children of New York (AFC)’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project combines our distinctive leadership in the field of public education advocacy with our in-depth knowledge of the needs of immigrant students, students learning English, and their families to improve educational opportunities for this population. 

We represent immigrant students and parents in school administrative hearings, help parents enroll their children in effective English Language Learner (ELL) programs, and assist older immigrant youth in finding appropriate school placements. In addition, we provide tools and information to parents on how to address problems in their children’s schools. We also work closely with immigrant-serving community-based organizations to strengthen their ability to assist families as they navigate the public school system. 

AFC does not consider immigration status when deciding whether to help you.

Guides & Resources

Note: The following resources are in PDF format and will open in a new window. To view PDF files, download the following free software: Get Adobe® Reader®.

For even more guides and resources, please visit our resource library.

Know Your Rights: A Guide to Legal Rights of Immigrant Families in NYC Public Schools 
(Also available in Arabic, BengaliChinese, FrenchHaitian Creole, KoreanRussianSpanishUrdu)
This comprehensive guide explains the rights of immigrant parents and students with regard to enrolling in school, services for students learning English, special education services, and translation and interpretation.

Translation and Interpretation Services in New York City Public Schools 
(Also available in Arabic, BengaliChinese, FrenchHaitian CreoleKorean, RussianSpanishUrdu)
This fact sheet explains the right of parents who do not speak English to free translation and interpretation services in order to participate in their children’s education.

Special Education Information in My Language: Translation and Interpretation Tip Sheet
(Also available in ArabicBengaliChineseFrenchHaitian CreoleKoreanRussianSpanishUrdu)
This tip sheet explains the rights of parents who speak a language other than English and have students with disabilities in New York City public schools.

Program Options for English Language Learners
(Also available in BengaliChinese, Haitian Creole, and Spanish)
A brief overview of the three main English language learning programs in New York City’s public schools: English as a New Language (ENL), Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE), and Dual Language.

Enrollment in New York City Public Schools for Immigrant Families
(Also available in BengaliChineseHaitian Creole, and Spanish)
This fact sheet explains how to enroll in a New York City public school and answers questions immigrant families may have about enrollment.

Enrollment Information for Migrant Students in the BronxBrooklynManhattanQueens, and Staten Island
(Also available in Spanish: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island)
These tip sheets explain how to enroll in a New York City public school in each borough, and resources for migrant students.

English Language Learners and Special Education
(also available in ArabicBengaliChineseFrenchHaitian CreoleRussianSpanishand Urdu)
Students who receive services to help them learn English and who also have special education needs have the right to receive both types of services. This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about bilingual special education.

Promotion Policy in New York City Public Schools for English Language Learners (ELLs) in Grades K-8 (Also available in BengaliChineseHaitian Creole, and Spanish)
This fact sheet explains the different promotion criteria for ELLs based on their grade and the number of years they have been enrolled in a U.S. school.

High School Promotion and Graduation Policy in New York City Public Schools for English Language Learners (ELLs) (Also available in BengaliChinese, Haitian Creole, and Spanish)
This fact sheet explains high school promotion and graduation requirements for ELLs and available accomodations.

State Testing and Accommodations for English Language Learners 
(Also available in Bengali, ChineseHaitian Creole, and Spanish)
This fact sheet explains standardized testing requirements in New York State as they apply to ELLs.

Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination of Immigrant Students in NYC Schools 
(Also available in ArabicBengaliChineseFrenchHaitian CreoleRussianSpanishUrdu)
This fact sheet explains New York City Department of Education (DOE) policy and what parents can do if their children experience bullying or discrimination based on race, national origin, immigration status, or religion.

Policy Work

Through our work with families and communities, we identify troubling trends and system-wide barriers that we address through our policy work. A cornerstone of this aspect of our work has been collaboration with other immigrant and education advocacy organizations. Our advocacy has spurred a number of major reforms, including the creation of alternative high schools specifically for ELLs, initiatives to reverse the citywide decline in bilingual programming, and improvement to translation and interpretation services for immigrant parents. Recent reports and initiatives include:

first page of data briefMore than Translation: Multi-Faceted Solutions for Communicating with NYC’s Immigrant Families
This June 2022 data analysis estimates that more than 329,000 public school students do not have a parent who speaks English fluently and calls for investments in a permanent, central system for immigrant family communications at the Department of Education (DOE). The analysis uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) to illustrates the need for multi-faceted approaches to communication that go beyond making translated documents available online.


page 1 of data briefMissed Potential: English Language Learners Under-Represented in New York City Career and Technical Education Programs
In July 2017, Advocates for Children released this data brief analyzing city and state data showing that English Language Learners (ELLs) are under-represented in career and technical education (CTE) programs at New York City high schools. The brief examines ELL enrollment at schools that offer CTE, as well as their participation and completion rates in the CTE programs at those schools. The also paper offers a list of recommended steps the New York City Department of Education can take to begin to address barriers for ELLs, including resolving recruitment and enrollment issues, offering extra training for CTE instructors in serving ELLs, and providing classroom supports in CTE schools.

report coverSafe Havens: Protecting and Supporting New York State’s Immigrant Students 
This May 2017 report, released by the Education Trust–New York, Advocates for Children of New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, urges New York school districts to better protect and support immigrant students and families. While the State Education Department (SED), the Attorney General’s Office, and the NYC Department of Education have taken a number of important steps, there is much more to do; recommendations include that SED reiterate that questions about national origin should not be asked during the student registration process; encourage school districts to adopt — and in some cases, strengthen — their protocols for how to respond to any request for access by ICE; and reinforce the importance of providing social-emotional support. 

AFC and NYLPI File Complaint Against the DOE to Stop Discrimination Against Limited English Proficient Parents
In June 2012, AFC and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education against the DOE for its systemic failure to provide translation and interpretation services to tens of thousands of limited English proficient (LEP) parents, in violation of local, state, and federal civil rights laws. Read the complaint [PDF], the press release [PDF], and a supplemental letter [PDF] sent to OCR in December 2014. All exhibits, including parent affidavits, are available on file with AFC.