This weekend, I came across a really interesting (and relatable) article that the New York Times ran earlier this year. You can check out the piece for yourself, but it highlights students who cross the border each morning to attend school in the U.S. Many of the students profiled are U.S. citizens; some are not. And it discusses the legal concerns of the districts to follow federal guidelines but also provide as many students with an education as possible.
This situation is something that I see every day where I work. On my commute to work, I typically pass an international bridge at 6:40 a.m. If I’m stopped at the light, I’ll see several of my students crossing the street, headed to a bus stop where they’ll catch a ride to my campus.
Because of federal law, the legality of students residing in Mexico but living in the U.S. is quite complicated. Here are a few possible scenarios:
- Student is an American citizen; lives in the U.S. – A no brainer, student attends U.S. schools.
- Student is a Mexican citizen; lives in the U.S. – This one is also not too complicated. Public schools are not allowed to check a student’s immigration status. So as long as the student has a U.S. address, he or she is in the clear to attend U.S. schools.
- Student is an American citizen; lives in Mexico - These are the students that the article focuses on. It’s fuzzy, but in most cases, these students need to prove they have some presence in the U.S. In most cases, an extended family member’s address is on file, and a student’s parent has proof of paying U.S. utilities at at least some point.
- Student is a Mexican citizen; lives in Mexico - The clear answer is that these students should not be attending school in the U.S., but they continue to attend for, what I can see, two main reasons. One, schools in Mexican border towns are not top-notch, and denying school access to these students isn’t a great PR move — just check out what decisions were made in the Calexico Unified School District in the article. Along the same lines, these students can add to the educated workforce in the respective regions — which is far smaller than it should be. But secondly, many school districts along the border receive federal funding, as far as I understand, on a per-student basis. More students, more funding.
It’s a complicated issue, especially in places like the Rio Grande Valley. Consider border communities such as Brownsville, TX and Matamoros, TA, where families have been split across the border for generations. It’s hard to envision today, but a time existed when the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo separated two sides of a community, not two separate countries. Culturally and economically, many of those towns are still one.
As controversial as it may be, by providing some young Mexican citizens with a U.S. K-12 education, one would expect that we will see a boost to economic growth throughout the U.S./Mexico border regions. And that’s something that state test scores will never be able to reflect.