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Mexico: undocumented students returning from US hit study roadblocks

Undocumented students in the United States who return to Mexico to study are facing unprecedented roadblocks when wanting to continue their studies in their native country.

Whether by choice or by necessity, hundreds of students come up against bureaucratic issues that stop them continuing their studies in Mexico. Photo: Pexels

hundreds of students come up against bureaucratic issues that stop them going to a new school, continuing interrupted courses from US institutions, or getting work

Whether by choice or by necessity, hundreds of students come up against bureaucratic issues that stop them going to a new school, continuing interrupted courses from US institutions, or getting work after they’ve already gone through a four-year college course.

While the inception of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012 did mean more students were able to continue in the US, more and more people are ending up in Mexico and need help, according to Daniel Arenas, a co-founder of non-profit Dream in Mexico.

“A lot of undocumented students in the US stopped contacting us for help at that time [in 2012], which was something we agreed with because there was more opportunities there – we focused on helping people that were already here in Mexico, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since,” he told The PIE News.

However DACA now looks to be under threat, 10 years after it began – with multiple legal challenges, including one in Texas in 2021 that stopped first-time applications being processed.

Campaigners are lobbying for permanent protections, and budget office is currently reviewing a formal ruling, but those still remain in doubt, affecting the country’s ability to attract more international students due to “restrictive immigration policies”, as reported by The PIE in June.

Despite the end of the Trump administration and its stringent rules on migration, it’s still having a residual effect – more than 100,000 Mexicans a year are deported to Mexico, whatever their current situation or whether they actually know the homeland they are being sent back to.

Telling a San Diego television station about her woes, Nancy Landa said that her deportation derailed her studies in more ways than one.

After attending college and taking a job as a California State Assembly member, she was deported for being in the country illegally – and was deported to Mexico, where she had been brought from by her parents as a child.

“I had a university degree, five years of working experience in the US – I was managing projects,” she told KPBS.

She could only get a job in a call centre because of the bureaucratic difficulties Mexican companies often face processing qualifications and certificates – and thus, not all of her college credits she’d worked so hard for in the US had transferred, meaning she was not qualified by Mexican standards.

“There are some things that the Mexican government is supposed to do, and can only do, but is not doing in the correct way… if there’s something wrong with your birth certificate, or you haven’t been able to get your Mexican passport after arriving, going to the passport office is a very bureaucratic process and they’re not able to resolve this quickly.

“The government is not able to allow you to benefit from the support system that you find for yourself in Mexico, which makes things harder,” said Arenas.

Despite reforms made by the Mexican government in 2015, transferring credits is still a very difficult process – and, according to Landa, they are no longer “pushing changes to the system”, leaving many in limbo.

Landa was eventually able to go the UK to get a degree in global migration from UCL – but, she said, her own brother was unable to pursue an advanced degree in Mexico due to a similar situation.

“I had a university degree, five years of working experience in the US”

“You hit this glass ceiling,” she said – referring to the fact that advanced careers are off the table without an advanced degree, which one must take all over again if they pursue it in Mexico despite already obtaining such certification from the US.

Another student, Dania Munoz, reached out to Dream in Mexico, Arenas’s non-profit, after she returned to Mexico when her father was sick and ran into similar roadblocks when pursuing further studies there.

Dream in Mexico aims to help people who have exactly these types of difficulties upon, or after, their return to Mexico from the States, voluntarily or otherwise – and Arenas consistently stresses the need for support systems in that situation.

“We have three requirements that are very important for a support system. The first is what you want to do when you return in Mexico – will that organisation, a university or a workplace, help you in the way you need it?” he explained.

He went on to explain the other two requirements – firstly, the location. A university in Mexico City will not be much of a support system to a student who needs to finish their studies and is stranded in Tijuana.

Finally, he says, when choosing a support system, they must look at their reality. For example, some of these different groups and universities will not be as useful to be a part of if your reality in life, such as familial difficulties, interests or other factors will make it more difficult to achieve your ultimate goal.

Essentially, Arenas said, it’s about not settling just because one dream has been derailed, or you’ve chosen to change your ultimate goal by coming back to Mexico.

Arenas also takes into account that such reality means, like Landa, some will end up going elsewhere to achieve their goals.

“There’s a lot of dreamers now that were deported or returned to Mexico that have gone to England, or Japan or Spain even – we think that’s perfectly valid, because if you want to complete your life goal and continue to advance, sometimes you have to leave Mexico,” he added.

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