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n a sunny morning in October

2015, a middle-aged Mexican

woman stands with her four chil-

dren eyeing the line that snakes

into the U.S. consulate general in

Tijuana, Mexico.

“I heard my children could get

a U.S. passport,” she says, gripping

a plastic folder containing their

U.S. birth certificates. When asked, she mumbles that her children

were born while she was working without authorization in the

fields of California. She heard of an information fair at the consul-

ate for migrant families whose kids were born in the United States.

She looks nervous and, in the end, decides not to get in line.

“I’ll come back another day,” she says, pulling her children away

and disappearing into the crowd.

This woman and her family belong to a growing demographic

An Invisible Tide:


U.S. Kids inMexico

The problem of undocumented U.S. kids in Mexico is a facet of the

immigration tangle that is putting pressure on both sides of the border.



Before joining the State Department in 2014, Amelia

Shaw was a Fulbright Scholar, an aid worker, a reporter

for NPR and a United Nations peacekeeper. Public

diplomacy-coned, she is currently serving as a first-tour

consular officer in Tijuana. She is the 2015 recipient

of AFSA’s W. Averell Harriman Award for Constructive Dissent. The

views expressed in this article are those of the author and not neces-

sarily those of the U.S. government.

in Mexico—migrant families who have returned to Mexico, either

voluntarily or following removal proceedings, and whose children

are U.S. citizens by birthright.

Many of these U.S.-born children do not have proper identity

documents, such as a U.S. passport or Mexican birth or residency

papers. Without them, they face difficulties in registering for

school or accessing medical and other basic services in Mexico.

As many as 600,000 U.S.-citizen minors may find themselves

in this situation across Mexico, possibly more. Their growing pres-

ence illuminates a concern for governments of both countries: the

urgent need to promote the rights of dual citizens in two tightly

interwoven societies.

“We don’t know howmany U.S. citizens are in Mexico,” says

Karin Lang, former chief of the American Citizen Services unit at

U.S. Embassy Mexico City. “Homeland Security tracks deporta-

tion of Mexicans—around 2.4 million. No one keeps track of the

accompanying family members, so we may be underestimating

howmany U.S.-born kids are here.”

Getting the Ball Rolling in Mexico

Lang was a key figure in a new initiative launched in Mission

Mexico called Documéntate Ya! (Get Documented!)—a huge

undertaking. She received the 2015 Mary Ryan Award for her

leadership on documenting binational children.

The goal of Documéntate is simple: collaborate with Mexican

authorities to reach migrant families and help them fully docu-