INS to Begin Student Visa Crackdown : Border: Starting Monday, Mexican students crossing the border daily to attend U.S. schools will be refused entry unless they have the proper visa.
An unknown number of Mexican children may be refused entry to the United States at the Tijuana and Mexicali border crossings Monday morning when the Immigration and Naturalization Service begins strict enforcement of student visa regulations.
Any potential effect is likely to be felt most in four South Bay public school districts nearest the border, in which the INS believes a number of Mexican nationals are enrolled.
However, administrators in those districts said Friday they do not expect any major attendance reductions because they do not believe there are large numbers of Mexican students illegally in their schools.
But administrators have no statistics to know definitely whether or not there will be a major disruption until after the enforcement is under way next week.
Although the INS estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 children living in the Baja California border areas regularly attend all types of schools in the United States, its figures include children who hold American citizenship or permanent resident status but whose parents choose to live in Mexico.
Those children will not be affected by the stricter enforcement, nor will those who cross to attend parochial schools in the United States and who already have student visas.
INS inspectors at the Tijuana border have been seeing “carloads of schoolchildren, books in tow, bound north from Tijuana every (U.S.) school day, with no documentation other than border crossing cards,” James B. Turnage, INS district director in San Diego, said.
Turnage said this amounts to a “free ride” for those students attending public schools because they are not paying tuition otherwise required of out-of-district students.
The new enforcement, which will cover ports of entry along the border from San Diego to Texas, will mean that a Mexican national student must have a student (F-1) visa to cross and will no longer be able to use border cards, which are issued for short-term shopping and visitation of relatives.
The INS said it will seize such cards if they are used in lieu of required student visas, noting that that it has been publicizing the “phased enforcement policy” since July.
The American Consulate in Tijuana has had a pronounced upsurge in applications by Mexican nationals for student visas since July, press officer Peter Samson said Friday. After issuing only about 250 such visas in 1990, it issued 1,275 last year, mostly in the fall, he said. So far in the first week of January, the consulate has approved 30 student visa requests.
But indications are that most of those visas have been issued to Mexican nationals attending U.S. Catholic schools near the border.
At Our Lady of Mt. Carmel school in San Ysidro, more than two-thirds of the 331 students are from Tijuana and 90% of them have obtained their F-1 visas, school spokeswoman Carmen Jaramillo said Friday.
“And Sister (Luz Jiminez) went from classroom to classroom today reminding all the students again,” Jaramillo said.
At St. Charles school in South San Diego, a spokesman said several families had obtained the necessary visas, but that many of its students who come from south of the border have American citizenship and do not need the special forms.
Because students attending parochial school already pay tuition ranging up to $1,600 a year, their families have no hesitation about obtaining the student visas. But for students who may be illegally attending an American public school, registering for the visa means their families will be socked with monthly tuition bills of hundreds of dollars.
To enroll a student in a public school, a family need only show the school attendance office a rent or utility receipt containing a valid address within the school district. Schools generally do not double-check for proof, and the California Constitution requires public schools to educate free any child living within their boundaries.
“Officially, we have not received any requests from students to submit information” for visa forms, Deb Baker, public information officer for the South Bay Union School District, said.
“Unofficially, we may have a few students attending who come from Tijuana, but we really don’t have any idea. We do see a couple of Baja plates on cars in front of a school from time to time, and we hear stories of a student or two late because of problems coming across the border. But we don’t think that the numbers are large.”
Baker also said that some students may be from Mexico but are living with relatives within district boundaries in Imperial Beach and South San Diego..
The superintendent for the San Ysidro elementary school district, which sits along the border, said Friday that she expects no major problem because her district carefully checks addresses of its students to make sure they live within school boundaries.
“We do a thorough job of checking, even following up with home visits when necessary, because we are a crowded district, and we could not possibly accommodate large numbers” of non-residents, Supt. Nancy Montalvo said.
“Also, someone who crosses isn’t likely to stay in San Ysidro because the Border Patrol is so active right along the border. And I get parents who have contacted me and asked for me to check out this or that parent because they see a license plate from Mexico. That tells you how strongly our community feels about students needing to live in the district.”
The Chula Vista Elementary School District, with 17,000 students, has six students from Mexico who have obtained visas and are now paying $284 monthly tuition.
“I really don’t anticipate a major problem, but we really don’t know,” Elizabeth Robinson, director of student welfare and attendance, said.
In the Sweetwater Union High School District, which covers the South Bay, San Ysidro and Chula Vista elementary districts, two students from Mexico are paying a monthly $447.80 tuition, having obtained student visas.
“Personally, I would be very surprised if there is any dramatic change, but I suspect there will be a few heart-rending stories of students who are in their senior year attending (without visas) from Mexico,” Mary Anne Stro, director of pupil personnel services, said.