Responding to questions from The Associated Press, Mexico's health officials said in a statement that they offer a temporary care plan for U.S.-born children, but families must certify the youngsters' documents within 90 days to continue receiving health care. An education department spokesman said each Mexican state, and sometimes individual school administrators, can temporarily waive requirements and let children into school despite the lack of official paperwork.
Many parents don't understand what administrators and clerks tell them. Official procedures are often confusing even for college-educated Mexicans. Misconceptions are widespread: Hernandez said he'd heard from other families that if he didn't get the children's documents stamped, U.S. officials could take the youngsters from him, even in Mexico.
"The mothers have come to us for help after multiple frustrations," said Ellen Calmus, director of the Corner Project. "I've literally had a series of mothers in tears coming to the office."
Her group arranged for two state clerks to help about a dozen families at the recent session in Malinalco, and both Leyva and Hernandez were able to send their children's birth certificates to get the official stamps in California. They were given a special permit to show schools that the paperwork is in progress.
Leyva's husband was among 46,000 people deported from the United States in the first half of 2011 who had U.S.-born children. He worked as a chef at a steakhouse in Santa Ana before he was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunken driving and was deported.
After nearly 17 years in the U.S. and with two small children, Leyva worried she would get caught, too, so she left their rented townhome in California. Her older daughter in her mid-20s stayed, but Leyva brought back her 19-year-old son. Both immigrated illegally as children.
A majority of migrants' American-born children stay in the U.S. with relatives, or are taken into state foster care after their parents are arrested for crimes. Demographers say only about 10 to 15 percent of the U.S.-born youngsters are taken to Mexico.
"These are children who are kind of stateless in both countries," said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of "Immigrants Raising Citizens: Undocumented Parents and Their Young Children."
"Each generation is undocumented in one country," he said.
In Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said that the U.S. government worries about U.S.-born offspring of migrants. "Where are the children? What's going on with the children?" she said in an interview with The Arizona Republic newspaper.
The U.S.-born children who are brought back to Mexico have birth certificates and American passports, so they don't need anything else to prove they have citizen rights if they should go back to the U.S.
Leyva says her U.S.-citizen children will not stay in Mexico beyond childhood.
Her eyes moistened as she told of how they often ask when they will return to the United States.
"When they are old enough, they will leave," she said. "Their future is not here. Their children will have papers; the children of their children will also have papers. The problems will end."
Adriana Gomez Licon on Twitter: http://twitter.com/agomezlicon
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