They call themselves “DREAMers,” a group of young undocumented immigrants who fight for a right to college education, military service, and a chance for a permanent legal status in the United States should the DREAM Act ever be enacted. But there are also “Los otros Dreamers” (The other DREAMers), a Facebook group created by former U.S. immigrants who are back in Mexico. They left their home country as children and graduated from an American high school but at some point in their lives, they faced deportation or a voluntary return. They now help each other with information on how to continue their education at Mexican institutions struggling with a limited Spanish-language proficiency and lots of red tape issues to ratify their American academic records.
“They need our help because they have a hard time finding a job or continuing their education,” says Daniel Arenas, who started the nonprofit organization “Dream in Mexico” after his own reverse immigration experience in 2007. “We help them to see the good side of Mexico, to introduce them to good and prestigious universities in Mexico”.
Mexico’s Department of Education “SEP” requires former immigrant students to present original copies with a legal certification of their official transcript and diplomas with a Spanish translation. In Mexico, some private institutions like Tec de Monterrey accept SAT scores instead of their regular admission test, but most public institutions have their own version of an SAT exam that is available only in Spanish-language, explains Arenas. Public Mexican universities are almost free for any citizen, but they charge a higher tuition to students who do not provide a Mexican birth certificate.
From 2005 to 2011, 1.4 million immigrants returned voluntarily or forcibly to Mexico from the U.S. Most of them were between the ages of 12 to 29, according to the nonprofit organization Migrant Families’ Popular Assembly (APOFAM).
At four years of age, Daniel Arenas moved from Guanajuato, Mexico to South Carolina and lived there as an undocumented immigrant. He decided to move back to Mexico once he graduated from high school because back then, he had no chances of a legal work permit in the U.S. after obtaining a college degree at an American institution.
“I thought that my return to Mexico was going to be the worst thing in my life because immigrants have a very negative image of Mexico,” he said through a phone interview from Monterrey, Mexico. With the help of his family, he applied to Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey, and his life changed in unexpected ways. He was able to return to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student to the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Tech. After graduating from college, he also received a tourist visa so can keep visiting his family in the U.S.. In addition to his advocacy work, he also has a stable job at a non-profit organization in Monterrey.
In 2010, he started helping other undocumented students like him who were interested in applying to Mexican institutions of higher education, attracted by lower tuition fees and the right to legally work in their home country. But since the Obama Administration announced the deferred action for childhood arrivals program in June of 2012, which relieved undocumented students from deportation and gave them an opportunity to apply for a two-year work permit, Arenas changed the focus of his organization to help those were deported or whose families decided to return to Mexico.
So far, the Mexican government has a lack of programs to help these young immigrants to adapt to their new life in Mexico. Thousands of them have found jobs in call centers in Mexico City, where their English-language skills are well utilized. But many of them face a high rate of youth unemployment and bureaucratic hardships to continue with their education. Many non-profit organizations are starting to warn the public and policy makers that without programs to help these youth adapt to their home country, the young deportees become easy recruits for the organized crime and gangs. At least, this has been the case of the fearsome “Maras” in Honduras and El Salvador. Without resources to effectively transition back into Mexican society, the dream of returning to Mexico can quickly become a nightmare.