Schools in Mexican border regions meeting educational needs of migrant kids

By Guadalupe Peñuelas and Juan Manuel Blanco

Ciudad Juarez/Tapachula, Mexico, Mar 1 (EFE).- Schools in Mexico’s northern and southern border regions are helping to safeguard the educational rights of migrant children, many of whom have been left in a limbo amid stricter immigration rules.

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, located across the border from El Paso, Texas, hundreds of minors from Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and even southern Mexico have been studying since last September at the Pascual Ortiz Rubio elementary school.

The children receive certified instruction “so they can continue their studies wherever they may go, to the United States or their country of origin,” Dora Espinoza, the school’s principal, told Efe.

“The first thing we did was sensitize our personnel (to potential challenges), but we were pleasantly surprised that the children who come from abroad aren’t that educationally behind. They adapt easily in class, They have a different perspective on life, and it’s about learning from them,” she added.

Mexico’s government registered 70,019 undocumented migrant children, mostly from Central America, in its territory last year. Of that total, roughly a fifth of them were unaccompanied minors, according to a February report by the interior ministry (Segob).

The United States, for its part, has deported more than 217,000 minors to Mexico over the past five years, according to Segob’s Migration Policy Unit.

“These are children who are going down a difficult road. There are several cases of kids who are now in the United States who have gotten in touch to say thank you,” Paulina Rodriguez, a teacher at the Pascual Ortiz Rubio school, told Efe.

That institution is regarded as the first nationwide to open its doors to migrant children, although the Public Education Secretariat has not provided figures on the precise number of foreign students.

And like in the northern border region, schools near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala also are welcoming migrant children inside their classrooms.

Ana Mercia Amador Morales, who fled her homeland with her three children due to gang threats and a lack of public safety, enrolled them in the Ignacio Jose de Allende y Unzaga elementary school in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas.

“It’s nice that they’re helping us out. We live in (the small border city of) Ciudad Hidalgo, which is a safe city, where the children feel normal,” she told Efe, adding that her fear that her family would be rejected has not materialized.

Her children are enrolled in second, third and fifth grade at a school with 585 students, 235 of whom are migrants.

Ignacio Jose de Allende y Unzaga is the only educational institution in Ciudad Hidalgo that makes no distinction between Mexican children and those from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama in terms of enrollment, Juan Jose Gonzalez Perez, the school’s principal, explained.

Jorge Rolando Flores Archila, regional services director at Chiapas’ Education Secretariat, said some 3,500 migrant children are enrolled in public schools in Costa-Soconusco, a region in the southwest corner of Chiapas where Ciudad Hidalgo is located.

“The schools are open to all children, no matter their nationality,” while federal assistance is being channeled to that institution via the Education Secretariat and the presidency, he said.

In reference to leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, he added that a “humanist government” is now in office.

Gonzalez Perez said a certain segment of the migrant children, some of whom have witnessed a brother being killed or their mother being threatened, arrive at the school with serious psychological problems.

“We’ve noticed that children come with terrible traumas from their experiences in their countries of origin,” he added.

Noting that the school does not require uniforms because the families of many undocumented migrant children would not be able to afford them, Gonzalez Perez said the institution has received crucial support in the form of school supplies and even classrooms provided by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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