THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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
“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.
BY AME L I A SHAW
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
“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-