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Mexico Struggles To Integrate Foreign Students, Including U.S.-Born Children


Mexico is absorbing an influx of American youth. In fact, recently, more kids have been crossing the border going south rather than north. This often happens when parents are deported. And for children who have just arrived, it can be a difficult adjustment. Here's Emily Green reporting from Michoacan.


EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: Like anywhere in the U.S., lunchtime is a raucous affair at the local elementary school in Cheranastico, a tiny town located two hours away by car from the nearest city. It's not a place one would expect to find a dozen American students. Ten-year-old Eurita Lopez Morales (ph) moved here from Houston a few months ago and is still adjusting to life at her new school.

EURITA LOPEZ MORALES: The teacher tells us that we have to write whatever she tells to write. And over there, it wasn't like that, and we didn't have Spanish over there.

GREEN: Eurita came to Cheranastico to be with her mom. But she misses her dad, who still lives in Houston and sends money home to Mexico. Eurita's assessment of the move is decidedly mixed.

EURITA: It's good, but without my dad, it's not that good.

GREEN: In recent years, towns all across Mexico have seen an influx of U.S. kids who moved with their parents - some voluntarily, others because they were deported. Around a quarter of the 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, also have kids who were born in the U.S. If they're deported, many of them are likely to bring their children with them to Mexico.


GREEN: As I enter a classroom in Cheranastico, the students greet me enthusiastically. Of the nine students in this class, three were born in the U.S., and these kids frequently go back and forth between the two countries, some for months at a time. Teacher Rosella Elena Romero (ph)...

ROSELLA ELENA ROMERO: (Through interpreter) It's very difficult for them to adapt. Also, in classes, they're very behind because they speak English. They say, teacher, when are you going to give me classes in English?

GREEN: Because of the language barrier, U.S. students are three times as likely as their Mexican peers to be held back in school, says Bryant Jensen, a professor at Brigham Young University who studies the issue. He says most of the kids move to rural areas in Mexico because that's where their parents are from.

BRYANT JENSEN: Their learning and their experiences, their knowledge from U.S. schools - it's not appreciated. It's not incorporated.

GREEN: In many ways, what's happening in Mexico is the inverse of what American educators have struggled with for decades - how to successfully integrate foreign students. The Mexican education department has an immersion program to help returning students. The problem is finding English-speaking teachers to certify, says Jose Luis Gutierrez, the secretary of migrant affairs in Michoacan.

JOSE LUIS GUTIERREZ: So that's a challenge. But what we are doing is, all these people that have been deported from United States that have been living over there for years and years - now they are here - we are certifying them as teachers.

GREEN: But that program to turn deported parents into certified teachers is in the very beginning stages, and it doesn't account for the emotional challenges returnees face. Lizbeth Gonzalez (ph) grew up in Arizona until she was 12. She's now 25, but when she returned, she spoke broken Spanish.

LIZBETH GONZALEZ: And then the kids start bullying you. They start like, oh, she speaks funny, and she doesn't say it right. And, like, the way of my, like - how I used to dress...


GREEN: But there's little talk of emotional trauma here in Cheranastico, where the sound of kids practicing music fills the empty streets. For now, residents are just trying to get by in a place where jobs are scarce and resources are limited. For NPR News, I'm Emily Green in Cheranastico, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "YOUNG FOLKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Green