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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. For this next story, we're going to go to the U.S./Mexico border, just east of San Diego where, for generations, Mexican laborers have crossed into the city of Calexico, California to work on the nearby farms of the Imperial Valley. And for decades, Mexican kids have been crossing to attend California public schools.

COHEN: But as Ana Tintocalis reports from member station KPBS, those schools are getting crowded, and school officials are now saying no.

ANA TINTOCALIS: It's seven in the morning at Calexico's pedestrian border crossing. A stream of students from Mexico pushes its way through revolving iron gates. Young school kids with pigtails and tiny backpacks are escorted by their moms. Teenagers listen to music and talk on cell phones. Daniel Santillan sits and watches. He's a tall, 320-pound man wearing a grey cap and thick glasses. He's been hired by the Calexico school district to take pictures of students crossing into the U.S.

Mr. DANIEL SANTILLAN: The kids that come this way or go straight, they go to our school. The ones that go right, they on to school to El Centro. See how she covered her face with a book?

TINTOCALIS: Santillan began taking photos of students two years ago, when district enrollment climbed to almost 10,000 - a big number for such a small school district. Calexico school board member Enrique Alvarado says a population boom in Calexico and its cross-border neighbor Mexicali caused the enrollment surge. The district had to buy dozens of portable classrooms to accommodate the larger enrollment.

Mr. ENRIQUE ALVARADO (Calexico School Board): Some of the parents were saying, well, you know what? Why is my son in a portable trailer, and this other young student that we know is from Mexicali is in a classroom? So it started a snowball effect, and we were constantly getting what are you going to do about it from our community.

TINTOCALIS: So the school district adopted a strict policy on student residency and began to kick out hundreds of Mexican students. And parents now have to submit utility bills and rental agreements twice a year to prove they live in the city. Relatives who are taking care of kids must prove they are the legal guardians. Principals review the snapshots of kids at the border and use them as evidence. Daniel Santillan, the man who takes those snapshots, also knocks on doors every week to find out if parents are providing legitimate addresses.

(Soundbite of knocking)

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Mr. SANTILLAN: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Mr. SANTILLAN: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

TINTOCALIS: The cross-border education problem is not unique to Calexico. School districts along the U.S.-Mexico border have been trying to grapple with this problem for decades. Some border school districts estimate as many as 10 percent of their students live in Mexico. However, most do little to verify where these kids live. Only a few districts take such extreme actions as Calexico. Immigrant rights advocates believe the district is unfairly punishing some of its students. They say many of these kids are, in fact, U.S. citizens or legal immigrants, but live in Mexico. Pablo Arnaud is Calexico's Mexican counsel general. He says the district has done a poor job explaining its policies, and that Mexican parents send their kids to Calexico schools because they want them to have a better education.

Mr. PABLO ARNAUD (Mexican Counsel General, Calexico): (Through Translator) The majority of parents send their kids to the U.S. so they can learn English very well. Another factor is Mexican schools are old and don't provide resources. In the U.S., they have good desks, chairs, fields for physical education and sports.

TINTOCALIS: Many community members sympathize, but say it's not Calexico's responsibility to educate these kids. Fernando Torres is a one-time mayor of Calexico.

Mr. FERNANDO TORRES (Former Mayor, Calexico): You go to Mexico, you're not going to get anything for free. They're not going to cater to you. So why should we, as taxpayers, be paying for their education down here? I think it's just - it's illegal what they're doing.

TINTOCALIS: Calexico's student enrollment has fallen by five percent since the crackdown, but it's come at a price. Last year, the district lost $2.8 million in state funding because they kicked out 300 students. Calexico School District officials believe students moved on to other districts in the Imperial Valley, and those districts are now reaping the financial benefits. For NPR News, I'm Ana Tintocalis.

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