Equity & Diversity

Life in Mexico Difficult for Children of Returning Immigrants

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 19, 2012 2 min read

Education reporters write often about the challenges that immigrant children face in adjusting to schooling in the United States, but today, The New York Times has a story that looks at the difficulties faced by American-born or American-raised children of Mexican nationals who have returned to Mexico.

Rising deportation rates, joblessness in the United States, and various state crackdowns on undocumented immigrants have caused an unprecedented wave of Mexican immigrants returning to their homeland, often with their American children in tow. And just like children of immigrants in this country, the American-born or American-raised children of Mexican nationals struggle to adjust to a different language, culture, and lifestyle in Mexico.

The piece describes in detail the struggles of one boy, born in Texas and more comfortable speaking English than Spanish. His experience, say experts in the story, is becoming more common in Mexican schools, where growing numbers of American children are enrolling since their parents’ return home. A Princeton University sociologist, herself a child of Mexican migrant workers, said the change in educational opportunities and lifestyle could have long-term negative consequences for these kids, most of whom will likely return to the United States.

I recently wrote about the Pacheco family in Alabama, who, because of their unauthorized status, has been weighing whether to return to Mexico because of Alabama’s tough law that cracks down on undocumented individuals. Twelve-year-old Juan Pablo, the oldest child in the family, told me he’s terrified at the thought of moving to Mexico. He knows all about the warring drug cartels and the widespread violence.

“It’s not safe there,” he said.

I heard the same sentiment from just about every immigrant parent and child I interviewed in Alabama.

The Times’ story also notes that, at least at the primary level, some of the schools in Mexico may be as good as, or even better than many of the American public schools that serve Latino immigrant children. But in high school, it’s a different story. In the same Alabama community where Juan Pablo lives, another immigrant family decided to leave after the state law went into effect last fall and took all their American-born children with them. That included, says the family’s friend and former neighbor Carmen Gonzalez, a 17-year-old daughter who was just a few months short of graduating from high school and had already been granted a scholarship to attend a nearby college.

Now, that same girl is enrolled in a Mexican secondary school, but must start her high school education over because the school does not recognize any of the course credits that she completed in her American high school.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.