Border schools get tough on Mexican students
In Calexico, Calif., schools crack down on students who live across the border.
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"Enrollment was getting out of control and we had to address it," Barraza says.Skip to next paragraph
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Elsewhere along the border, schools pay varying levels of attention to Mexican students. In San Diego County, officials have had to tread carefully since the mid-1990s, when a video clip showing schoolchildren crossing the border in a rural area created a stir. The small school district serving the region ultimately had to expel a reported 325 of its students because they didn't live within its boundaries.
Under federal law, schools cannot ask students about their citizenship status. Even if they could ask, many Mexican children have American citizenship because they were born here. But schools can verify where students live.
The proof can come in the form of documents such as water bills or mortgage papers. In addition, the district now requires documentation if a relative who lives in the district claims to be a child's guardian and a new computer system will allow school officials to immediately identify addresses that don't exist.
"We've really tried to close a lot of the loopholes," says spokeswoman Lillian Leopold. "We think we're pretty strict, but we're not a police agency."
The district does allow Mexican students to attend its schools if they pay annual tuition of $7,435, Ms. Leopold says. No one does that at the moment, however.
Students living across the border can attend some US colleges and universities if they pay tuition. An estimated 10 percent of the students at the University of Texas-El Paso are Mexican citizens, says linguistics professor Jon Amastae, former director of the university's department of inter-American and border studies. According to news reports, some of these students cross the border to attend school.
Meanwhile, so many schoolchildren come through the El Paso border that officials created a special pedestrian lane for them. The Houston Chronicle reported that about 1,200 used the lane during a single morning in 2007.
Some El Paso residents have complained about the influx of Mexican students. But Mr. Amastae thinks most residents are on his side. "Here along the border, most people share the idea that we all have an interest in raising education levels," in both countries, he says. "Doing so benefits all of us."
• Randy Dotinga reported from San Diego and Mary Knox Merrill reported from Calexico.