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BINATIONAL Migrant education a reality of the border

October 2, 2015

By Pablo J. Sáinz


The border region San Diego-Tijuana could well be Ground Zero for the education of migrant children.
Whether dealing with children whose parents were deported to Mexico and families now reside in border cities like Tijuana or children who live in Tijuana and every day cross the international border to study in San Diego, this is a reality that deserves the attention of Mexican and US educational authorities.

And officials from both countries are paying attention to this issue, as we noted in the XXVIII Meeting of the Binational Migrant Education Program (PROBEM) held in Mexico City from 23 to 25 September.

La Prensa San Diego, recognizing that migrant education is an important issue for the border community, was present during the event.

One of the issues that was highlighted at the meeting was that of reverse migration, when Mexican families return to Mexico. One priority is to facilitate the registration of Mexican-American children in the Mexican education system and help children adjust to a new culture and, in many cases, a new language.

This is common among children who arrive in Mexican cities such as Tijuana, where according to the State Educational System of Baja California in recent years there has been an increase in the number of American children of Mexican origin enrolling in public schools.
Many of these children only speak English or have a very limited knowledge of Spanish, which makes it difficult to integrate into the Mexican education system.

Nationally, according to data for the last 10 years reverse immigration has increased by 208 percent, that is immigrants returning to Mexico with their children.

“It’s definitely an event that is becoming common,” said Professor Luis Alvarez Rojas, state coordinator PROBEM in Michoacan and current Mexico national coordinator. “These are families from the USA that were deported or are returning voluntarily to Mexico but we have many students who did a part of their schooling in the United States,” he said. “They don’t have knowledge of the Mexican education system and when they reach Mexico they encounter very different realities. Their expectations of education systems are not met most of the time.”

The PROBEM advances the agenda of bilateral cooperation between the two countries in education, while giving attention to students of Mexican origin who are in constant motion.
“For many years the PROBEM has developed a network of representatives in all states of the Republic and many states in the United States to develop and promote educational programs for migrants who are moving around cities in both countries or going across borders,” said Guido Arochi, deputy director of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME), an organization dedicated to coordinate projects and initiatives among Mexicans living abroad.

Arochi, who as deputy director of IME is part of Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Department, said that among IME’s objectives are “to empower Mexicans beyond our borders, as well as helping them to adapt to the society where the now live. That means for them to know all their rights and obligations.We also facilitate links so that immigrants can have better relationships with their homeland.”
He added that Mexicans in the U.S. should be more in contact with their local Mexican Consulate, where they can receive resources and programs, among them legal help and education programs at all levels.

“The most important message is that they visit one of the 50 consulates in the U.S.,” Arochi said. “Our consulate employees can offer them free legal consultations.”
Antonio Ramos, director of the Center for Migrant Education Services in Oregon, said that the PROBEM is a bridge between the two educational systems.

“The PROBEM I think is the most viable link to support children with dual nationality or binational migrating into the United States, and coming back to Mexico and vice versa,” Ramos said.
Among the actions the Binational Migrant Education Program performs
are to be “the main link for the children when they come to the United States so that they can continue their education without any barrier and under federal rules and regulations at any level, anywhere they are located,” said Ramos.

In San Diego County, particularly in the northern part where agriculture is prevalent, it is common for children to last only a few months in their schools, and their parents as agricultural workers have to move following the harvest.

Alvarez Rojas said that one of the goals in the Mexican PROBEM is for these students to receive more specific attention.

In California alone, there are 1.4 million students who are English Learners and 90 percent of them speak Spanish, according to Jan Corea, CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), an organization dedicated to promoting programs that strengthen bilingual education in California.

Corea said that inverse immigration to Mexico will make the Mexican educational system to face the same challenges the U.S. has faced for the past 40 years.“It is a huge number of students, and collaborating together we will share what we have learned to be able to meet the needs of students who speak little to no Spanish,” she said. “What’s important is to help them to learn Spanish, but maintaning their English skills. Our goal in California is for our students to be bilingual. We hope the same will happen in Mexico, for them to retain English while learning Spanish.”

Ramos warned that more than simply a meeting of education officials, PROBEM binational conference’s goal is to meet the educational needs of children. “We must ensure that children in both countries have the academic resources, have opportunities for either there or here to succeed academically, and who can also be good citizens in both countries,” said Ramos.

Alvarez Rojas for his part said that “the purpose of the meeting is about generating strategies to better serve our people living in both countries and needs special attention.”
Ramos said that in order for binational children to excel in both academic systems in Mexico and the United States, the systems are that need to adapt to the needs of students.

“The children of both countries are here and they are over there. They can not change,” Ramos said. “Those of us who we are the adults need to make changes to the systems, in ways that can work to ensure that these children succeed.”

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