During a visit to an elementary school in Columbus, New Mexico, last year, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it is “frankly inspiring” that 75 percent of the students there live in Mexico but are being educated in the United States because their mothers crossed the U.S. border for their births, making them U.S. citizens.
As CNS News reports, Duncan said, “These are our kids, and they’re trying to get a great education – these children and families who are trying to live the American dream of putting everything, everything on the line to get a great education.”
“And it’s frankly inspiring,” he added.
A 2013 Washington Post documentary about “blurred” immigration lines highlighted Duncan’s comments and is included on the school’s website.
According to the documentary, women who live in Palomas, Mexico, frequently cross the U.S. border to give birth in Columbus, New Mexico, because the hospital there is closer than the nearest medical facility in Mexico. In addition, the Palomas clinic often does not have a doctor on staff.
“So for decades, women in labor have been allowed to cross the border and go to the nearest hospital, which happens to be just 30 miles north of the U.S. border,” says the documentary. “Once they give birth there, the children become citizens.”
The Washington Post documentary also includes an interview with Columbus Fire Chief Ken Riley who said he has taken “thousands of trips to the border to pick up women in labor.”
The Columbus, New Mexico, hospital states it loses about $1 million per year providing maternity services to women who can’t pay for them. However, under a 2010 agreement between the United States and Mexico, the Palomas clinic would receive more money and staff, and the U.S. would accept only emergency cases.
Duncan’s visit to the Columbus, New Mexico, school was part of a bus tour. On the second day of the tour, Duncan watched children leave school to walk across the border into Mexico. As noted on the USDE blog website, Columbus principal Armando Chavez said that every day, the children are sent back across the border into Mexico, hoping that a parent is there to meet them on the other side.
“Obviously here in Columbus is something I’ve never seen before,” Duncan said. “You have children who are American citizens at the local elementary school – Columbus Elementary – the majority of the kids travel back and forth across the border every single day.”
Duncan praised the children’s parents for having “the courage to drop their 6- and 7- and 8- year-olds off; to send them here to chase the American dream, to get a better education, to contribute to society.”
The education secretary also remarked that, when the children cross the border into the United States, school officials are “making sure the children are fed not just during the week but on the weekends.”
“They make sure the kids’ dental needs are met, their health care needs are met,” he said. “And they are trying to remove every single barrier to children being academically successful.”