Border Kids: Crossing international lines twice a day for a better education

News 11 Exclusive

YUMA, Ariz. - In the midst of the education crisis, the first-ever statewide teacher strike in Arizona where there was a demand for raises and boosts in funding - News 11 wanted to find out where exactly some of these resources are going. And, some of them are going to children across the border.

For many children in our region, crossing international lines twice a day is standard. Some kids as young as five go to great lengths, starting at three in the morning to get an education, often times on the American dime. 

"It's worth it. It's worth it for the education," said Esthala Garcia. Garcia is one of the many parents who see their children off in the morning. These parents see the American education as a way for a better life. 

"I want a better life for them. Better education, not to have so many difficulties," Jose Luis Rios said, who is a father of three.

During the busy morning rush hour at the San Luis Port of Entry, students shared their thoughts. "One time in Mexico, my teacher was two weeks without coming in, no substitute, no supervision. [We were] just there on our own." The mentality for many is, "I was born in the U.S. so I deserve to come to school here." Other students pay out of country tuition or qualify as an exchange student and have a student visa, but then there are a few who abuse the system. 

"People might try to be dishonest, circumvent the system. I understand where they're coming from, but it's important for them to do it the right way," Yuma Union High School District spokesperson Eric Patten said.  

Students must prove they're an Arizona resident, but News 11 has uncovered that some people are taking to Craigslist selling their addresses online. Very obvious when the district sees 15 families allegedly living at the same house or when mail is returned to sender. And while to Patten's memory, it's never happened and no student has ever been expelled for it. This could technically carry criminal charges because these families are providing fraudulent documents. 

"We see students from all walks of life: extreme poverty, homeless students - the stories are sad - but also show how resilient and passionate they are about bettering themselves and getting an education," Patten added.  

Here's how it works: The more students a district claims to have, the more money they get from the state. So one could argue, children who live in Mexico attending school in Arizona are actually helping the district get more funding. However, the other side of the argument is that students who claim to live here are taking money out of the already tight education budget that should be spent wisely. 

"It's called seat money. You get a certain amount of money for each student in a seat, but there are repercussions for not following guidelines," Patten said.

That's why the Yuma Union High School District has been cracking down on the misuse of addresses and becoming much more thorough in the registration process. 87 percent of kids at YUHSD are minorities. Six percent are English-language learners. 

Martin Estrada started in that six percent and is now thriving. Estrada is studying medicine in the U.S.  "I want to turn things around so I could be more stable."

But the sacrifice doesn't come without some dose of reality. "Sometimes we get sleepy in class." "Crossing the line is a nightmare, people pushing each other." "I've seen several times kids get detained here with drugs and that's why I wait for my kids here," Luis Rios said. 

"It is scary - older people who go to work could kidnap them, do something to them, and they have their older brothers and sisters with them, but they are young too," Estrada added.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection acknowledges that a sea of small, unaccompanied children are in the line every morning. Yet their sole priority is to check that their documents are legitimate - writing in a statement - if a traveler has the proper entry document, then there are no specific issues. 

As for the taxi drivers waiting on the other side of that barbed wire fence, they have concerns, even though they respect the parents for wanting their kids to get the best education possible. 

"Little ones, kindergartners, first graders, they're young and need their mother by their side, they need supervision." "They are really fighting for it, it's a big sacrifice." 

The problem for some is that the parents on the other side of the border aren't paying property taxes. This money helps fund these schools and they're also contributing to the overcrowding of classrooms when the district is already short-staffed. Sometimes there are more than 40 kids in one class.

As for those who are paying out of country tuition, it costs $4,600 a year. The district said there are nine kids from Mexico paying that price and as you heard, they say it's worth it.

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