What if you were sent to a foreign country and couldn't speak the language?
For many deportees sent to Mexico, especially children — and the children of the deported — this a reality to which they must adjust. Schooling is one of the main challenges facing children as they struggle to adapt to a new country, culture, and language. Children in Tijuana, Mexico, however, have a resource to help them integrate into their new home: a model program at 20 de Noviembre Elementary that helps the new students assimilate.
According to a report from NPR, the school doesn't segregate students by language ability. Instead, non-Spanish speaking students are paired with native speakers, while those most in need of therapeutic counseling see a specialist every week.
It's working out well for 9-year-old Anthony David Martinez, who told NPR he is learning to embrace his heritage. Martinez moved to Mexico when his parents were deported earlier this year (he is a U.S. citizen, but his parents were undocumented).
"I see myself more Mexican," Martinez told NPR. "I belong in Mexico. This is my home."
Integration programs like these are the kind of help deportees really need, Nora Phillips of Al Otro Lado told ATTN:.
Al Otro Lado helps ease the transition for deportees in Tijuana.
The L.A.-based nonprofit offers four programs to undocumented people in the U.S. and deportees in Tijuana:
The Deportee Reintegration Program
Helping deportees integrate back into Mexico.
The Border Rights Project
Working with refugees and asylum seekers that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has turned away.
Cross-border Family Support
For families torn apart by deportation.
Legal First Aid
A free legal aid clinic in the L.A. County Hospital Wellness Center
Psychological assistance and legal aid are essential to people who have just been deported, Phillips said. The elements of society that prey on deportees can spot them a mile away.
The stress of deportation can take a heavy toll.
In February, a Mexican man committed suicide less than an hour after being turned away from the border. Phillips said many children who are deported end up living on the street and raising themselves with no help from the community, their schools, or the government.
"It's necessary to have the legal midwifery before the despair sets in," Phillips told ATTN:. "You’re immediately identifiable as deportee. I cannot emphasize enough the mental health risk of the isolation."
That isolation is present for many deported children in Tijuana. NPR reports that many children have low self-esteem and feel alone in school in the period after deportation.
That's what makes 20 de Noviembre Elementary so special.
The program is delivering results. Martinez said he was worried he'd be lonely and have to work hard to create a new community of friends, but it's been less difficult than he thought.
"I was like, 'Oh no, I'm going to have to make new friends, new school, new everything,'" Martinez told NPR. "But now I'm happy here."