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What Would Closing the Mexican Border Mean for Children and Schools?

By Alyson Klein — April 04, 2019 2 min read
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President Donald Trump has threatened to close the border between the U.S. and Mexico, in order to stem the flow of migrants from Central America. His latest pitch: Giving the country a “one-year warning” before putting additional tariffs on car imports from the country, and then closing the border “if that doesn’t work.”

But closing the border would be “a major problem” for thousands of children who are U.S. citizens but live in Mexico and attend school in the United States, said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a civil rights group.

In many of those cases, families live in border towns in Mexico because it’s less expensive than the United States. But they choose to send their U.S. citizen children to higher-quality schools here, he said. Other times, parents have been deported but want their U.S. children to continue to live with them, while also receiving a U.S. education.

That’s been a phenomenon for decades, he said. (See more here from Education Week.) Some of the students attend private school in the U.S. and others go to public schools that allow for out-of-district enrollment. Many of the students walk over the border, so it’s unclear how they might be affected if Trump closed the border only to vehicular traffic, Saenz said. But presumably, the border could be closed to foot traffic as well.

And that would be problematic, Saenz argued.

“You’re depriving kids of an education. They are U.S. citizen kids. They have all the rights of U.S. citizens,” he said. “That is compromised a little by the fact that they are not living in the United States but it would definitely end up in court.”

Saenz said those who argue that U.S. citizens living in Mexico should attend schools there are missing the bigger picture and are being short-sighted.

“It’s not to our benefit to deprive them of an education that would make it possible for them to contribute at a higher level to our economy, because the fact is most of them, when they’re adults, are going to move to the United States because they have that right,” he said.

What’s more, closing the border could lead to an economic slowdown that would especially hurt families whose jobs are dependent on trade with Mexico, including truck drivers, grocery store workers, and more, Saenz said.

President Donald Trump salutes as a U.S. customs and Border Protection helicopter passes as he tours the U.S. border with Mexico at the Rio Grande on the southern border on Jan. 10, 2019, in McAllen, Texas. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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