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Student project helps shape debate on Mexico’s education policy

U.S.-born children of Mexican descent living in Mexico must cut bureaucratic red tape to receive key services

A student project at the USC Price School of Public Policy helped spark discussion about the rights of U.S.-born children of Mexican descent now living in Mexico. The report has reached federal-level decision-makers in Mexico’s education, foreign and interior ministries.

USC Price master of public policy students Alexander Becker, Jennifer Moore, Brianna Pierce and Emily Reisner prepared the report for their client, Instituto par alas Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI), which resulted from a policy analysis practicum capstone course in 2014.

“This report was really helpful because when we went to the Foreign Ministry, we could say, ‘Look, the USC Price School of Public Policy wrote this report, and it has all of these statistics,” said IMUMI Director Gretchen Kuhner. “ ‘Look at how much money this is costing both the U.S. and the Mexican governments.’ ”

The report details how U.S.-born children of Mexican descent in Mexico often struggle to access their right to Mexican citizenship and important services, such as education and health care.

A time-consuming process

The USC Price students discovered that the number of U.S.-born children in Mexico exceeds 500,000, in the wake of deportations and the economic crisis that caused many Mexican families to return home.

For these U.S.-born children in Mexico, accessing their right to Mexican citizenship entails an expensive and time-consuming bureaucratic process, the practicum report explained.

First, the family must mail the child’s birth certificate back to the United States to receive an Apostille stamp, or official certification of authenticity. Second, the family must hire a certified translator in Mexico to translate the child’s birth certificate into Spanish. Finally, the family must bring the child’s Apostillized, translated birth certificate — along with the parents’ birth certificates or voter registration cards — to the Civil Registry in Mexico to file registration papers.

Due to this onerous process, an estimated 30 percent of children under the age of 5 are unregistered in Mexico.

Contradictory policies

When it comes to enrolling in school, unregistered children can face contradictory policies and inconsistent practices. Mexican law entitles children to receive education based on residency alone. At the same time, the Ministry of Education requires foreign-born children who wish to enroll in school to present an Apostillized birth certificate — and the grace period for meeting this requirement varies by location.

As a result, many children miss months of school or drop out. This not only has immediate consequences for the children, but may also pose longer-term negative effects. A number of these children have ended up in juvenile prisons, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

It’s a bureaucratic issue that we haven’t been able to move.

Gretchen Kuhner

“It’s a bureaucratic issue that we haven’t been able to move, having real impact on people’s lives at the level of children’s access to education,” Kuhner said.

Options at hand

The USC Price students recommended two options to address this daunting scenario: eliminating all administrative barriers or implementing an electronic or e-Apostille. Both alternatives proved economically superior to the status quo, and the e-Apostille seemed the most politically feasible option given the concern over document fraud.

Thanks to the persistence of IMUMI and other organizations, the issue is now on the agenda of Mexico’s education, foreign and interior ministries, Kuhner noted. The education ministry will soon launch a campaign to remind Mexican schools of their obligation to enroll all resident children. An inter-institutional commission has also formed to identify possible solutions, including implementing an e-Aspostille.

“One of the things the report looked at, too, was the possibility of the electronic Apostille procedure, so the Mexican government is now looking at all of that,” Kuhner said.

The U.S. Ambassador recently met with Mexico’s education ministry to request a general waiver of the Apostille, according to Kuhner. In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy is working to get these U.S.-born children their U.S. passports, which Mexican schools accept in lieu of Apostillized, translated birth certificates, she added.

“The practicum program overall has done a lot to inform local policymakers and nonprofit providers of services on how to become more efficient and effective,” said USC Price Professor Gary Painter, who co-teaches the practicum. “There have been several projects with immediate policy impact or policy impact in the relative short term.”

A welcome opportunity

According to Painter, the four students, who have since graduated, welcomed the opportunity to put theory into practice in addressing such a critical issue, when they began working on the IMUMI project last year.

“They were very excited about the project,” Painter said. “It was a lot of work for them because the political context of Mexico is so different than their experience here in the U.S. That’s part of why these projects are such tremendous learning experiences for the students, because they’re able to be put in a situation that’s very different from the ones that they’re used to.”

This year, two more MPP practicum groups are working on projects in Mexico City in the hopes of making such an impact.

At the request of the think tank FUNDAR, one student group is exploring how citizen advisory boards for federal policy could be more effective. At the request of the Mexico City government, a second student group is analyzing the effectiveness of the conversion of an asphalt factory into a mixed-use development.

“We’ve been trying to do more work in our neighbor to the south, and this is in alignment with USC’s focus on Latin America,” Painter said. “We’re excited about seeing where these projects go.”

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Student project helps shape debate on Mexico’s education policy

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