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These American kids live in Mexico but cross the border daily to go to school in the US

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COLUMBUS, N.M. (Circa) — Columbus is a village in New Mexico of roughly 1,800 people that sits along the U.S.-Mexico border. On the opposite side you'll find the town of Palomas, Mexico. Many people here have relatives on both sides of the border.

What makes this region unique is the fact that hundreds of children cross the border daily to attend school in America. All of them are U.S. citizens.

Columbus Mayor Phillip Skinner
Phillip Skinner serves as the mayor of Columbus, in addition to being one of its school bus drivers.

"Eight-hundred kids come across a day," said Columbus Mayor Phillip Skinner. "Around 400 of them are elementary school students. The rest would be middle school and high school students."

Every morning, Patty Muela brings her 9-year-old daughter, Jaydeen to the border.

"She crosses the bridge [port] and she gets on the bus," she said. "It's a constant routine five days a week."

Patty Muela's daughter, Jaydeen.
Every morning, Patty Muela brings her 9-year-old daughter, Jaydeen to the border.

For more than 40 years, U.S. authorities have allowed Mexican residents living in Palomas to cross if they need emergency medical care.

"Before a few years ago, there was no clinic in Palomas," said Skinner. "If a mother got ready to deliver, the closest hospital was in Deming, [New Mexico]."

Marta Chaparro gave birth to her daughter in the U.S. eight years ago. "I tell her, 'You were very lucky to be born there. It was not planned and thank God you were,'" she said.

A fleet of buses arrives every morning to transport the kids to school. Most of them attend Columbus Elementary. "This is life for them," said principal Armando Chavez. "It takes some adjusting for them but they come to school every day with a happy heart."

The toughest adjustment is the language barrier. If a child attends school in the U.S. from the outset the assimilation is easier. But if it's an older student, he or she goes through a more customized curriculum to help bring them up to speed.

Armando Chavez greets students
"This is life for them," said Principal Armando Chavez. "It takes some adjusting for them but they come to school every day with a happy heart."

Many people in Columbus have grown accustomed to this way of life. But there are some residents who have a problem with it.

"Totally against it," said Columbus resident Dallas Busta. "The reason being is we pay the taxes here, we feed em'.. and I'm not racist, but we feed em' and we're paying for their school."

"They're going to get Social Security," he added. "They get the hospitalization, they get Medicare right away for free... for free. We have to pay for ours, you know."

"They're U.S. citizens," said Mayor Skinner. "I would imagine 99 percent of them will eventually end up living in the United States as you would expect a U.S. citizen to do."
School officials say it's cost-effective to educate these children now.

"We're spending about $6k a year per pupil," said Dan Lere, schools superintendent of Deming. "If you look at the government programs, there's a lot of families that are receiving $20, $25, $30k a year in subsidies. I would much rather pay the $6k now and avoid paying that in the future."

Mayor Skinner says the number of pregnant women crossing the border to give birth has dwindled over the years. But if there's an automobile accident or other type of trauma case, the victims are still permitted to cross the border to the U.S. for medical care.

"Even today, if you come to the border and declare a medical emergency, the U.S. will let you in, and the village of Columbus will transport you to the hospital," he added.

Students learning at Columbus Elementary
"When children are related to two countries, if they are completely bilingual I do think that they have better chances to get a good job," said Patty Muela.

Circa talked to parents who see the benefits in having their American-born children educated in the United States.

"When children are related to two countries, if they are completely bilingual I do think that they have better chances to get a good job," said Patty Muela.

Marta Chaparro said she wants a solid future for her daughter. "The best, a good life," she said. "That's she's able to accomplish her dreams," she added.

This story has been re-published. It originally appeared on Circa on April 30, 2017.

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