Caught in the middle: Young Americans forced to start a new chapter in Mexico when parents are deported

TIJUANA, Mexico (KTRK) -- For Mexican nationals who leave behind their birth country for a life in the land of opportunity, the harsh reality of deportation sets in on the borderline. However, the struggle is just as real on the other side of the wall for the American-born children who leave with parents who have either been deported or are forced to return and begin a new chapter in a country the children know nothing about.

After three and a half years being back in Mexico, young Priscilla Tepeque still remembers the vibrant patriotic lines of the Pledge of Allegiance, something both she and most every other American learns in school. Yet, it will be a long time before she gets to recite the pledge once again.

"I'm just happy I'm here with her," Priscilla said of her mother, Nery.

Eyewitness News met the Tepeque family in Tijuana, Mexico, at a school filled with many American-born children of Mexican nationals.

"They moved to Tijuana because they want to stay with me," Nery said of the tough choice she was faced with making.

To this day, Nery cries knowing her family left everything behind in sunny southern California because of her.

"In the USA, my husband worked in dry wall construction and we had a car, we had a home," said Nery, recounting her life prior to returning to Mexico.

Everything changed when she drove down to Tijuana in 2012 when her mother passed away. Nery was undocumented and there was no way she would make it back across the border to the US after leaving.

"It is so difficult to live here, I wanna go back but I can't," Nery said.

It was a big change for her American children, especially in the classroom. Her son Jacob doesn't speak any Spanish, only English. While her daughter's skin and hair color looked the same as others at the new school in Mexico, blending in wasn't easy.
"I remember everybody making fun of me," said Priscilla. Barely knowing the language and culture made the Tepeque children a target for bullies.

Organizations like the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) are trying to help American children navigate life in a new country. CABE's leaders have teamed up with the public education system in Mexico to train teachers on both sides of the border.

"The teachers need to understand the cultural sensitivity. They need to understand the reality from where students are coming from," said Enrique Gonzalez with CABE.

Organizations like CABE estimate at least 53,000 students in northern Mexico are the American-born children of Mexican nationals that have either been deported or forced to return to Mexico -- and that number continues to grow.

While they dream of one day returning to the US, the Tepeques say the journey has taught them a valuable lesson: the true meaning of family and unity.

"One day I'm going to bring you guys back," said Priscilla to Nery.

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