Dario Lopez-Mills, Associated Press
MALINALCO, Mexico — As a cold drizzle washed over this town of narrow cobblestone streets in the forested highlands of central Mexico, mothers waiting outside the colonial-era cultural center wrapped wool blankets around the infants snuggled in their arms. Other parents tightened plastic bags around folders filled with U.S. passports and birth certificates from California, Ohio and Texas.
One by one, the parents filed inside, sat down before a Mexican government worker and told stories of lives that had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border twice. First, they crossed illegally into the United States for work, found jobs, and had children. Then, they were caught and deported, or left on their own as the work dried up with the U.S. economic slump. Now they are back in Mexico with children who are American citizens by virtue of being born on U.S. soil.
Because of the byzantine rules of Mexican and U.S. bureaucracies, tens of thousands of those children without Mexican citizenship now find themselves without access to basic services in Mexico — unable to officially register in school or sign up for health care at public hospitals and clinics that give free check-ups and medicines.
At issue is a Mexican government requirement that any official document from another country be certified inside that country with a seal known as an "apostille," then be translated by a certified, and often expensive, translator in Mexico.
It's a growing problem in Mexico as hundreds of thousands return home because of the sluggish U.S. job market and a record number of deportations. Illegal migration of Mexicans to the U.S. is at its lowest level in decades, with more Mexicans now leaving the United States than entering it each year.
More than 300,000 U.S.-born children have been brought to Mexico since 2005, out of a total of 1.4 million people who moved back from the U.S. during that period, according to the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center.
The number of U.S.-citizen children living in Mexico with at least one Mexican parent reached 500,000 in 2011, according to one demographic study.
Many of the Mexican parents of U.S. children were not aware of Mexico's paperwork requirement before they came back, so now tens of thousands are struggling to get their children's documents to the United States to be certified, and then returned to Mexico to be officially translated.
They get little help from the Mexican government, but a lucky few get aid from groups like the Corner Project, a nonprofit organization for migrant families in Malinalco. It arranged for state government workers to travel to the town recently to meet with families and then send packages of documents to different U.S. offices. Returnees living in small towns without government offices otherwise have to make long journeys to deal with officials.
"The government doesn't care about what happens to the people who are coming back," said Maria del Rosario Leyva, who came back with her two U.S.-born children, a 3-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, from Santa Ana, California, last year after their father was deported.
She and other returnees have gone to schools and to education offices seeking to enroll their children. Some were sent to Malinalco's records office, which suggested they hire a lawyer.
Rogelio Hernandez Sanchez is another parent who is back. He lost his job as a construction worker in Oakland, California, last year and decided to bring his family to Mexico in November. He was told that not only was he missing official seals on the birth certificates of his two U.S.-born children, but that the documents were no good because they were issued by a health department rather than a government records office, as is done in Mexico.
"They won't give me my kid's grades. I won't be able to take them to a doctor," Hernandez said.
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