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Calexico School District Cracking Down on Students from Mexico

For generations, people from Mexico have crossed into the border city of Calexico to work in the Imperial Valley. But now an increasing number of Mexican students are crossing into Calexico to attend

Calexico School District Cracking Down on Students from Mexico

(Photo, right: Students each lunch at Rockwood School in Calexico. Ana Tintocalis/KPBS)

For generations, people from Mexico have crossed into the border city of Calexico to work in the Imperial Valley. But now an increasing number of Mexican students are crossing into Calexico to attend public schools there. School district officials are trying to crack down on the problem. But some say they're going too far. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has this report.


It’s seven in the morning at Calexico's pedestrian border crossing. A steady stream of students from Mexico pushes its way through a set of revolving iron gates. Young school kids with pigtails and tiny backpacks are escorted by their moms. Teenagers stroll by as they listen to music or talk on their cell phones.  

Across the way sits Daniel Santillan -- a tall, 320-pound man wearing a grey cap and thick glasses. He's been hired by the Calexico Unified School District to take photos of these students as they make their way to school.


The kids that come this way or go straight they go to our schools. The ones that go right they go onto to school in El Centro. See how she covered her face? With a book. They already know. They already know me.

Santillan began taking photos two years ago. That's when a record-number of students living across the border in Mexicali began attending Calexico public schools. Under law, undocumented immigrants have a right to an education in the U.S. Schools are not supposed to ask students to show proof of citizenship.


Enrique Alvarado is a Calexico school board member. He says the district brought dozens of portable classrooms to accommodate all of their students, but taxpayers and parents were not satisfied.


Some of the parents were saying, 'You know what? Why is my son in a portable trailer and this other young student that we know is from Mexicali is a classroom.' So it started a snowball effect. And we were constantly getting, 'What are you going to do about it' in the community.

What the Calexico School District did was kick out hundreds of Mexican students. They did that by adopting a strict policy on student residency within the district. Under California law, kids who attend public schools must live within school district boundaries.

Now parents with kids in Calexico schools have to submit utility bills and rental agreements twice a year to prove they live in the city.

They hired Daniel Santillan to take snapshots of kids at the border. The images are shared by principals and used as evidence. Santillan also knocks on doors every week to find out if parents are providing legitimate addresses.

Calexico school district officials say it doesn't matter to them if a student is documented or undocumented, just so long as they have proof they live in the district. But immigrant advocates beg to differ. They say taking photos and doing house checks are back-handed ways of cracking down on illegal immigration. Some go as far to say the district is acting as if it’s the border patrol.

Pablo Arnaud is Calexico's Mexican Consul General. He says district officials have done a poor job explaining what they're doing. 


What happens to those photos? Where do those photos go? How are they used? Those are questions parents want to know. School officials have assured me they would come back with answers but I am still waiting.
Arnaud says many parents are scared of a stranger taking photos an knocking on doors because kids in this border town have been the targets of immigration agents, child smugglers and kidnappers.     

Arnaud says the bottom line is many poor and middle class parents send their kids to Calexico schools because they want them to be educated so they can have a better life. He says Mexico's schools are dilapidated and old, and the education system itself is rife with problems.


The majority of parents send their kids to the U.S. so they can learn English very well. There are some schools in Mexico that teach English but most do not. Also teachers are often going on strike. That leads to a lack of discipline in schools. 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. Mexico doesn't have many things that help children to learn.

Many community members sympathize but say it is not Calexico's responsibility to educate these kids.

Fernando Torres is a one-time mayor of Calexico.

He says weeding out Mexican kids is the right thing to do.


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 just think its illegal what they're doing.
Calexico's student enrollment has fallen by five percent since the district started its residency crackdown. Now just over 9,000 students attend its schools. The district's efforts have been so effective that the district is now hurting economically. That's because schools get state funding based on the number of students in their classrooms. Last year the district lost $2.8 million because they kicked out 300 students.

District officials say those students are now attending schools in other districts in the Imperial Valley.

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.