COLUMBUS, New Mexico (Border Report) — A fifteen-year-old whose mom asked she not be identified by name, gets up in the moonlight around 5:45 a.m. every morning to prepare breakfast for her and her 11-year-old brother, whom she has to rouse for school every weekday.
Both of their schools are in the United States, in Deming, New Mexico, about 45 miles from their home in Palomas, Mexico.
We are choosing not to identify some of the students because we weren’t able to speak to their parents for permission to use their names.
The girl attends Deming High School. Her brother is a middle-schooler who attends at the public campus nearby. She said, in Spanish, that she doesn’t mind waking up early and that she wants to live in the United States.
“There are more opportunities here for work,” she said. “I like it here.”
Like hundreds of other students from Palomas, Mexico, who were gathered Thursday morning in a parking lot of the port of entry in Columbus, New Mexico, she and her brother are American citizens. But their families are not. Therefore, they live in Mexico but they attend school in the United States.
On Thursday morning, the students waited near the port of entry in a parking lot for school buses that take them to various public school campuses in New Mexico. They laughed, hugged, wiped the sleep out of each others’ eyes. Some girls braided each others’ hair. Some children sat sleepily on a curbside, while others horsed around.
And as the sun began to rise and the winds picked up, so did their energy and their chatter.
About 700 students from Palomas, Mexico, catch school buses here to attend public schools in the United States, said Philip Skinner, who drives one of the buses.
Skinner owns the local hotel, Los Milagros, just three miles up the road, and he says driving the children is an easy $50 extra per day in his wallet.
He drives the elementary children to Columbus Elementary School, here in Columbus. The middle and high schoolers attend campuses in Deming about 30 miles away.
Crossing in the moonlight for school
The majority of students who cross for school here daily come from families whose parents are not American citizens.
This is an arrangement that the Deming N.M. Public School District and the Mexican pueblo of Palomas have had for generations. Some say it’s been going on 50 years. It is an arrangement steeped in the knowledge that these are U.S. citizens who happen to live in another country and who have the right to a better education up north, Skinner told Border Report.
The principal for the Columbus Elementary School, Viridiana Chacon, told Border Report that 550 children at her campus — that’s 76 percent of her entire student body — live in Palomas, Mexico.
All of her teachers are bilingually certified, Chacon said, and the students are taught a bilingual program of daily instruction. For parent-teacher conferences, she Skypes with families in Mexico, she said.
The Christian Science Monitor ran an article on the school district last November and cited two other districts with similar arrangements along the Southwestern border, Juarez and El Paso; and San Ysidro, California and Tijuana, Mexico.
Here in Columbus, most children walk across the port of entry station starting around 6:20 a.m. They line up and pass through Customs and Border Protection officers and then are guided by crossing guards and port staff to help direct them and keep them safe.
Some parents, like Roman Alvidrez, drive daily. Alvidrez packs his older model car with Abel, 12, and their 4-year-old terrier, Pepe, and drive across the bridge every day.
Pepe is a familiar white and fluffy fixture here. Alvidrez says the CBP officers all know him and if he doesn’t bring him then the miniature dog howls and cries at their home in Mexico and wakes his sleeping wife, he said.
“It only takes about 15 minutes to drive at this time of day,” Alvidrez said in Spanish. During the afternoons, however, they can get stuck in traffic as workers are heading home to Mexico and it can take longer. “And on Saturdays and Sundays a lot of people cross from Mexico to shop. But we don’t have to come to catch the school bus on those days,” he joked.
Abel sat in the car, keeping Pepe company, but outside on the field hundreds of Abel’s friends laughed, played, joked before they filed into awaiting buses.
According to the group Border Partners, which provides educational and career resources to people along the border, there is no hospital in Palomas. The closest hospital is in Deming. Therefore, some babies are born in Deming and as a result, are citizens of the United States.
Tom Nelson, a firefighter with the Columbus Fire Department, says he transports about 15 women who are coming across the border for labor each month to the Mimbres Memorial Hospital in Deming.
“If they come to the port, the port calls us. We go down there and we have to transport them,” Nelson said.
“We don’t get paid for it,” he added. “It’s a freebie, but that’s how it works. I don’t care if they’re green or purple or have antlers out of their head. We transport them.”
Nelson said a few years ago, he was called to help transport a woman who was in delivery at the port.
“When I got there, the baby was already out,” he said. “So was it born on this side or that?”
Skinner said he also has learned over the years that many children live in families with parents who have been deported and they must wait a certain amount of time to re-apply if they want to live in the United States.
A group of boys gathered excitedly around a Border Report reporter and rattled off what they wanted to be when they grow up.
Irorm Romero said he wants to be an astronaut. Sergio Garcia, 11, wants to be an immigration lawyer “to help end discrimination against migrants,” he said in Spanish.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com. She is traveling and reporting with a crew from Border Report that is traversing the entire Southwest border from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.