KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
President Trump has promised to deport millions of people who are in the U.S. illegally, and some of those most likely will be Mexican parents of American citizens - more than half a million children who were born in the U.S. and are now living in Mexico because when the parents are kicked out, the kids go, too. Researchers call these children the invisible ones. In the border city of Tijuana, however, they are no longer invisible. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports on a program that was designed for them.
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CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Of the thousands of children who've arrived in Tijuana from the U.S., some have enrolled here at 20 de Noviembre Elementary. In this fourth grade classroom, the teacher singles out a skinny 9-year-old.
ANTHONY DAVID MARTINEZ: My name is Anthony David Martinez. My school is 20 de Noviembre. It's kind of weird when you say it in English. That's like 20 November (laughter).
SANCHEZ: Anthony's Spanish, according to his teacher, is a work in progress. He's fluent in English because until recently, he lived and went to school in Barstow, Calif.
ANTHONY: When I was going to go to Mexico, I was like, oh, no, I'm going to make new friends, new school, everything, but now I'm happy here.
SANCHEZ: Veinte de Noviembre Elementary has embraced kids like Anthony, all 88 of them. They get lots of extra help building vocabulary, working on their grammar, pairing them off with native Spanish speakers, not segregating them. There's no stigma to speaking English because it's a highly prized skill here. Learning proper Spanish, on the other hand...
ANTHONY: It was hard. Like, the homework was in Spanish, and that time, we didn't have a computer. So then that's when we got a computer, and then that's when I started to fit in 'cause I was doing good.
SANCHEZ: Veinte de Noviembre's considered a model for how schools should treat and teach the half-million U.S.-born students who've enrolled throughout Mexico.
AMPARO LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
SANCHEZ: Amparo Lopez is with Baja California's Department of Education. She says in the last school year alone, 12,092 foreign-born children and teenagers enrolled in schools throughout the state. Ninety-eight percent were from the U.S.
LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
SANCHEZ: That was on top of the nearly 58,000 children who had arrived from the U.S. in previous years.
LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
SANCHEZ: Lopez says the surge began in 2006 with a sharp increase in deportations. That grew even more under President Obama and kept growing as more and more immigrants working illegally in the U.S. lost their jobs during the recession. Down the hallway from Lopez's office, the most recent arrivals meet once a week with tutors and counselors. It's been especially helpful for kids like Julian, 13. He's a U.S. citizen, born in Los Angeles. His mom and dad crossed into the U.S. illegally and were recently deported. Julian doesn't speak a word of Spanish.
JULIAN SANCHEZ: I don't know how to, like - to read it or write it.
ARACELI SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
SANCHEZ: Julian's mom, Araceli Sanchez, says she tries to help him with his schoolwork, but what he puts down on paper is not really Spanish. At least here, she says, tutors are teaching him more words and helping him with his grammar. Counselors say these kids need a lot more than that.
SIBONEY MIRANDA ARGUETTA: (Speaking Spanish).
SANCHEZ: Siboney Miranda Arguetta says these children have very low self-esteem. Most are deeply sad about leaving their homes in the U.S., and schools often don't know how to help them. One study of 1,500 U.S.-born children in Mexican schools found that with very few exceptions, like the model program in Tijuana, these kids get little or no support. Many are held back in grade.
Some stop going to school - invisibles - the invisible ones. That's what researchers call them - which brings us back to 9-year-old Anthony. He's thriving because he gets so much academic and emotional support, but there's something else about Anthony. He seems to be learning a lot about himself and the world he left behind in Barstow, Calif.
ANTHONY: I was never white when I was at Barstow. I was brown, you know? I see myself more Mexican, yeah. Like, my color - I belong in Mexico. This is my home (laughter), yeah.
SANCHEZ: Anthony says he'll return to the U.S. someday. He is, after all, a U.S. citizen by birth. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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