orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

State News

September 21, 2009

Students warned to prove Texas residence or leave

DEL RIO, Texas (AP) — Students living in northern Mexico have skirted residency requirements to attend U.S. public schools for generations, but when the superintendent in one Texas border town got word that about 400 school-age children were crossing the international bridge each day with backpacks but no student visas, he figured he had to do something.

The community is connected by a bridge to Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, and like most border cities, the towns operate in tandem, with U.S. citizens and green cardholders living, working and shopping on both sides. All of it is legal, but public school attendance by children living in Mexico is another issue.

"We had several van loads (with Mexican license plates) pulling up at the schools and kids getting out. It's like 'C'mon, it's obvious what's going on,'" said Kelt Cooper, superintendent of the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District.

He directed district officials to stake out the bridge and warn students they could face expulsion if they don't prove they live in the district — a move that's brought complaints from civil rights groups and support from anti-immigrant proponents.

"We have a law. We have a policy. We follow it," said Cooper, whose spent most of his life near the border and is uncomfortable with attempts to make him a cause celebre for either side of the immigration debate. "I'm just doing my job."

Like parents elsewhere who send their children to a better school across town, some parents living in northern Mexico send their children to American public schools believing they are safer and offer better education. Many also hope a U.S. education will provide better access to American colleges and universities.

Immigration status isn't an issue in these cases. A decades-old Supreme Court ruling prevents school officials from even asking about citizenship. Regardless, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, students who use the bridge enter the U.S. legally because they are U.S. citizens, permanent residents with green cards or Mexicans with student visas. Those visas are used by Mexican students who pay tuition, primarily at parochial schools.

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