Up to 9,000 children are struggling to keep up with school work in Sonoran classrooms after moving with their families from the United States because of immigration crackdowns, an education researcher estimates.
Most of the children are thought to be from Arizona, where the passage of SB 1070 two years ago led to southward migration, says Norma Gonzalez, a University of Arizona professor in the College of Education. Many are U.S. citizens, she says.
The phenomenon is so widely acknowledged that Mexican educational officials have produced a documentary film on the topic, including interviews with adolescents affected by the migration.
“They are very often English-dominant,” Gonzalez says. “Their schooling experiences are in Arizona or (elsewhere) in the United States. Because of a series of factors, they are returning to Sonora and are entering the school systems down there.”
Gonzalez is studying their educational processes under Fulbright funding.
“I think the latest figures are that there are 9,000 students with previous experience in the United States – mostly Arizona – who are in Sonoran schools,” Gonzalez says. “That’s a large demographic.”
She says they face many challenges, including the trauma of relocating to another country. She cites the example of a girl who said her mother came to her school in Arizona, took her out of the classroom and told her, “we’re leaving,” literally as the family departed for Mexico.
Besides the social trauma, the children face academic challenges in language barriers and curriculum differences, and they often are placed in classrooms with younger children.
On the Mexican government film, one adolescent is depicted saying in English, “Once in a while, I get frustrated because I can’t read some things.”
Gonzalez, who will study the issue through next year, says government officials and educators need to know more about it so they can help these children with social adjustment and to leverage their lives as “trans-nationals.”
“They’re coming from a U.S. context where they were seen as Mexican, and then they’re going into a Mexican context where they’re not necessarily seen as Mexican,” she says. “They’re seen as outsiders.”
Their unique place in relation to Mexico and the United States is interesting for these children, Gonzalez says.
“What’s interesting about that is that these young people see themselves trans-nationally,” she says. “They are U.S. citizens. They see themselves returning to the United States, as having trans-national futures. So I think that makes it really important for us to think about how education on both sides of the border can leverage their skills.”