US-Citizen Children Living Without Basic Services in Mexico


Back in March 2011, I visited San José Calderas, a small village outside Guatemala City, where I met dozens of US-citizen children living largely without basic services such as healthcare, education, and consistently clean drinking water. As I wrote then:

Calderas stands out from other Guatemalan villages in that it is populated by former residents of Postville, Iowa – a town best known for a 2008 immigration raid that led to the deportation of hundreds of undocumented immigrants and devastated the economies of both Postville and its sister villages in Guatemala, which had grown dependent on remissions.

After the deportations, many of the remaining Guatemalan immigrants in Postville decided to leave; some followed relatives who had been deported while others left because of worry over future immigration raids. As the deportees and their families returned to Guatemala, they brought their US-citizen children with them.

Several articles in the past month have revisited the topic of US-citizen children forced to live abroad because of the immigration status of a parent. An excellent report by Damien Cave of The New York Times tells the story of a young boy who is trying to adapt to life in Mexico, despite the cultural dissonance brought about by his upbringing in the US.

The piece also gives us some perspective on the broader phenomenon:

In all, 1.4 million Mexicans — including about 300,000 children born in the United States — moved to Mexico between 2005 and 2010, according to Mexican census figures. That is roughly double the rate of southbound migration from 1995 to 2000, and new government data published this month suggest that the flow is not diminishing. The result is an entire generation of children who blur the line between Mexican and American.

“It’s really a new phenomenon,” said Víctor Zúñiga, a sociologist at the University of Monterrey, in Nuevo León State, which borders Texas. “It’s the first time in the relationship between Mexico and the United States that we have a generation of young people sharing both societies during the early years of their lives.”

Afraid of being separated from her son by US immigration authorities, Adeleida Ajín, an undocumented immigrant who had been living in Postville, Iowa, decided to return home to a small village in Guatemala following large-scale immigration raids. She brought her US-citizen son, James Audrey, with her, although she worries about the hardship he will face growing up in Guatemala, where 75 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. (Credit: Ted Hesson)

A recent article by the AP echoes the concerns about US-citizen children forced to live abroad, calling it “a growing problem in Mexico as hundreds of thousands return home because of the sluggish US job market and a record number of deportations.” Adriana Gómez Licón reports:

As a cold drizzle washed over this town of narrow cobblestone streets in the forested highlands of central Mexico, mothers waiting outside the colonial-era cultural center wrapped wool blankets around the infants snuggled in their arms. Other parents tightened plastic bags around folders filled with U.S. passports and birth certificates from California, Ohio and Texas.

One by one, the parents filed inside, sat down before a Mexican government worker and told stories of lives that had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border twice. First, they crossed illegally into the United States for work, found jobs, and had children. Then, they were caught and deported, or left on their own as the work dried up with the U.S. economic slump. Now they are back in Mexico with children who are American citizens by virtue of being born on U.S. soil.

Because of the byzantine rules of Mexican and U.S. bureaucracies, tens of thousands of those children without Mexican citizenship now find themselves without access to basic services in Mexico – unable to officially register in school or sign up for health care at public hospitals and clinics that give free check-ups and medicines.

At issue is a Mexican government requirement that any official document from another country be certified inside that country with a seal known as an “apostille,” then be translated by a certified, and often expensive, translator in Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn’t track the number of US-citizen children who leave the country because a parent was deported, much less those who leave for other reasons, like the economy, family separation, or fear of deportation. However, back when I reported the story in Calderas, I estimated that the number of US-citizen children forced to grow up abroad because of immigration policy could amount to a small city, in the hundreds of thousands. After reading these articles, it appears it could be even more.

Hear the stories of the parents I met in San José Calderas:

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