Every day, hundreds of children cross the border between Mexico and the United States to attend classes at Columbus Elementary School in New Mexico. They’re Mexican by address, but are American citizens who live in Palomas, Mexico.
Nearly three out of four students at Columbus Elementary live in Palomas and were born to Mexican parents. These children are American because of a long-standing state and federal policy that allows Mexican women to deliver their babies at the nearest hospital, which happens to be 30 miles north of the border in Deming, New Mexico, the seat of Luna County, writes Lyndsey Layton of Washington Post.
The tide of students washing over the border has drawn muted complaints from some local residents over the cost to U.S. taxpayers. But most accept the arrangement as a simple fact of life on the border, which feels like an artificial divide between communities laced together by bloodlines, marriage and commerce.
More than 60% of Luna County’s 25,000 residents are Hispanic, many of whom were once schoolchildren from Palomas. In the 1950s, the Palomas children did not even have to be Americans to attend the Deming Public Schools. The elementary school principal simply admitted the children of one persistent Mexican father and the tradition began.
Twenty years later, the county began requiring U.S. citizenship, but students don’t need to live in Luna County, said Harvielee Moore, the school superintendent. “We’re here to teach children,” Moore said. “They’re American citizens, and we want them to be literate. If they’re literate, they get jobs. And they pay taxes.”
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently visited Columbus Elementary School and joined the children in the afternoon on their three-mile bus ride along Route 11 to the border. “This is absolutely unique — I’ve never seen anything like it,” Duncan said.
According to Moore, this school year 421 students cross the border to attend the elementary, middle and high schools in Luna County. Columbus Elementary uses a dual-language immersion model, teaching the children all subjects in Spanish one day and in English the next.
In many cases, their parents have no legal way to enter the United States and are stuck on the Palomas side, unable to step inside their children’s schools.
Many local residents are raising concerns over the policy, unhappy that they have to pay for the education of children because they were born in U.S.
“They drop a kid and we’re paying for schools, medical, social security,” said Mark Reshel, 64, a retired Marine, referring to the fact that Mexican women have been giving birth at his county hospital. “Anchor babies,” said Reshel, as others nodded.
According to Reshel, the 14th Amendment, which automatically confers citizenship on anyone born in the United States, should be changed.
For the past three years, U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has introduced legislation that would clarify the amendment so that U.S. citizenship is conferred only when at least one parent is a citizen or has legal status to live in the country. The legislation is stalled in committee.