MEXICO CITY — Nancy Landa’s life changed suddenly in 2009. Within the course of a day, she found herself deported from Los Angeles to Tijuana.
Her family was the victim of notary fraud. Rather than fulfilling their hopes of becoming legal residents, the rest of Landa’s family was returned to Mexico within a month.
Despite graduating from California State University, Northridge after studying business, she found that her high school diploma and college degree were not recognized in Mexico. Landa went on to get her master’s degree from a university in England, but it’s not validated either, she said.
“That was also a political point,” she said, “that I have to go across the ocean to a country that will recognize my degree.”
Access to education and recognition in Mexico are challenges faced by residents who grew up and went to school in the United States. The census estimated 597,000 U.S. born children were living in Mexico in 2010. As more return — some willingly, some not — migrant advocates say the country is not prepared for their arrival or to meet their needs.
A FOOT IN TWO WORLDS
American children born to Mexican nationals are entitled to citizenship in both countries, said Frida Espinosa Cárdenas, a coordinator for transnational family support for Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración.
Among Mexican nationals in the United States, there’s not a culture of parents getting their children’s Mexican birth certificates from the consulates. Lack of education and promotion is partly to blame, she added.
That makes it difficult for those children to enroll in school.
Until June the Mexican education department required children migrating from the United States to have their American school transcripts validated with an apostille, or official seal from an officer such as the Texas secretary of state.
The problem with that, Espinosa Cárdenas said, was that parents often could not afford to — or cannot legally — travel back to the United States to get their children’s documents stamped in person. Some were able to either hire an agency for the task or mail the documents to a friend, who then got them stamped and returned.
Even so, Espinosa Cárdenas said, there were also costs associated with getting the documents translated for Mexican officials.
While the apostille will no longer be required from primary school students, Espinosa Cárdenas said advocates are worried about the implementation of the new policy. How will the Mexican government ensure that every school director in the country is aware that children don’t need the seal to attend school?
“That’s the biggest burden that families face,” she said. “Even though that was a huge accomplishment in June for the migrant program, we’re still worried about how this information is going to get to the local level.”
Also still a question — the quality of education for U.S.-raised children. There’s no guarantee they will receive bilingual education, assistance learning Spanish, or understanding from teachers.
Children face stigma from other children and even school officials. Espinosa Cárdenas said she met one family in Michoacan where a 15-year-old girl was given provisional enrollment in the local high school and was not allowed to wear a uniform. The girl was involved in a fight off campus and expelled, and her family could not afford to send her to school in the next town.
“There’s a huge need in terms of pedagogy that is culturally competent,” Espinosa Cárdenas said. “That’s an extreme case, but Mexican society is not prepared for the large population of U.S. migrant children.”
Stigma was partly why Aremy Carrillo, a dual citizen who grew up in Los Angeles, didn’t finish high school in Mexico. She was in 10th grade when her family returned about four years to Guadalajara.
Sitting outside a café in Colonia Centro, the 20-year-old nursed a cup of coffee as she recalled having to wait six months before she was allowed to enroll.
“You feel lonely; you don’t have any friends; there’s not much you can do,” she said.
Once she started classes, they were — as one would expect — all in Spanish. She couldn’t take notes or write essays. History class was totally different. Mexican grammar was difficult. It seemed as though teachers doled out good grades to their favorites and grudgingly passed everyone else, Carrillo said.
“Some teachers don’t like the fact you’re from the (United) States,” she said. “They feel like you feel like you’re better, so they’re mean.”
And the removal of the apostille requirement doesn’t do anything to help people like Landa, who ultimately gave up her attempts to get her bachelor’s degree in business validated by the Mexican government. She said she called four different universities to ask whether her degree plan was compatible with their curriculum, and they all made it clear that she would have to take additional classes.
“There’s a responsibility in the United States to know what’s happening to us,” she said. “Why is it in the U.S., we’re not pressuring Mexico to be more open to people educated in the U.S.?”