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Latino Daily News

Wednesday September 18, 2013

Crossing the Border to Go to School

Crossing the Border to Go to School

Photo: Columbus Elementary School, NM

Click Here to Enlarge Photo

When classes end for the day at Columbus Elementary School in this tiny desert town, roughly three-quarters of the students board buses to return to their homes — in Mexico.

On the other side of the customs station three miles away, waiting parents crowd the main street of Palomas, Mexico.  Crossing guards from the school block all traffic along the highway going south, so that students can safely walk through the checkpoint.

The students are U.S. citizens, even though many of their parents are not. Many of the children were born in a nearby New Mexico hospital, because the closest Mexican hospital to Palomas is an hour and a half away.

“Those children … have dual citizenship until they are 18. Well, which citizenship do you think they are going to ask for? The United States. Would you rather have them educated and come and work here, or on welfare?” asked New Mexico state Rep. Dona Irwin, a Democrat who represents the border region.

New Mexico is unique in how openly its schools embrace American children living in Mexico, but all along the U.S.-Mexican border, children cross international lines on their way to school every day.

The children’s commute illustrates the complexities of life in border regions — complexities that seldom get mentioned in national debates over immigration and border security.

The students are U.S. citizens, even though many of their parents are not. Many of the children were born in a nearby New Mexico hospital, because the closest Mexican hospital to Palomas is an hour and a half away.

“Those children … have dual citizenship until they are 18. Well, which citizenship do you think they are going to ask for? The United States. Would you rather have them educated and come and work here, or on welfare?” asked New Mexico state Rep. Dona Irwin, a Democrat who represents the border region.

New Mexico is unique in how openly its schools embrace American children living in Mexico, but all along the U.S.-Mexican border, children cross international lines on their way to school every day.

The children’s commute illustrates the complexities of life in border regions — complexities that seldom get mentioned in national debates over immigration and border security.

“You have something I’ve just never seen before,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a video, taken shortly after he visited the Columbus school last week as part of his tour to kick off the school year. “For parents to have the courage to drop their 6- and 7- and 8-year-olds off, to send them here to chase the American dream… It’s a remarkable profile in courage.”

“Whatever we can do to support this great work, we want to do it,” Duncan said.

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