The requirement of revalidation of foreign studies is the greatest obstacle faced by Dreamers as they seek full recognition of their U.S. education in Mexico
It was five years ago when I encountered a bureaucratic monster that I did not know existed. Upon returning to Mexico due to deportation, I learned that my entire academic and professional career I built in U.S. as an undocumented immigrant would not be recognized in the country where I could prove to be a citizen. It had already been difficult to survive one of the worst types of rejection I had experienced – the expulsion from the country that I lived most of my life. Even more painful was to arrive to a country which I am told is supposed to be “my home” and where I “belong” simply because I was born there, but where I would also encounter countless obstacles when I attempt to use the education and knowledge I had acquired “abroad”. In other words, according to government agencies like the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) in Mexico, my education from the U.S. is worthless.
Revalidation: The de facto invalidation of foreign studies
Even though I completed a career in Business Administration from an accredited U.S. university, Mexico has only recognized my high school education as a result of its revalidation requirement, and this was only possible due to the support I received from my friends in Los Angeles to secure the documentation required by SEP. To obtain these documents, I had to ask a friend to go to my school in Los Angeles to request them (luckily, my friend was someone who had attended the same school which facilitated this). However, in Mexico, it was not enough to have an original copy of my diplomas and transcripts.
An Apostille of my school records, which can only be obtained within the US, was also required. I handed over my diplomas and school transcripts to another friend that thankfully lived within close proximity, I was Tijuana and she lived in San Diego, so she could go directly to the closest office of the California Secretary of State. With an Apostille on hand to certify the legitimacy of the document (only the authenticity of the signature and its origin but not its content), I had to find a licensed professional in Mexico to translate these documents from English to Spanish. I was clueless as to how I proceed in finding and verifying if a translator was “licensed” as this is not something provided in an information sheet nor a guide by a Mexican government office. A guide like this does not currently exist. However, I made use of my technological skills and with the help of my faithful friend Google, I came across the website of the Judiciary of the State of Baja California which had a listing of licensed translators in my area.
After comparing prices and taking into account the limited financial resources I had, I hired a translator whom I paid close to $200 dollars for translating all the diplomas, transcripts and the Apostille itself. Finally, I submitted these documents to the regional SEP office (of course after paying an additional fee) to process the high school revalidation. From this point forward, the revalidation process was completed in a couple of weeks. However, obtaining all the required documents can take months, as it did for me, years for many others or perhaps impossible for many deported and returned youth or who lack the resources to assist them with obtaining the required documents and lack the information to start the process.
The recognition of my university degree is another story; it remained filed away in a cabinet with my diploma and Apostille after I decided I would not proceed with the revalidation (to revalidate a degree, all prior education levels need to be revalidated first). This was an informed decision I made after meeting with representatives of four universities in Baja California that made me aware of the SEP equivalency requirement that I would subsequently know as Agreement Number 286 (2001). In Section 25.1, this agreement stipulates that the course plan of a foreign degree must match 75% with a similar academic program in Mexico, a requirement that makes full recognition of a foreign degree technically impossible.
In the end, it was the opinion of each university representative that in the best possible scenario, I would have a partial revalidation and it was very likely I would be required to take additional courses to obtain a B.S. degree in Mexico, the same degree I had already completed in the U.S. Having neither the time nor financial resources as I worked in a call center at the time, proceeding with a partial revalidation of my university degree and taking more courses was not a viable option. It also seemed absurd that I had to be required to take additional classes to accredit a career that in no shape or form required a specialization (like medicine or law) to exercise it. Over time, the company where I worked promoted me to a position that was a better fit for my skills and knowledge. In the private industry, my university diploma was accepted, the same one that was not automatically recognized by the SEP in Mexico. Later, I would become much easier to travel to the other side of the world where a revalidation was not required to continue my studies. To enroll in a postgraduate program, a school application and a U.S. diploma were all that were required. It was there, in an educational institution of a foreign country where my U.S. degree was valued and accepted without a senseless bureaucratic requirement.
SEP fails to acknowledge Dreamers living in Mexico
Despite making efforts for the past two years to expose our experiences of exclusion and institutional discrimination in Mexico when it comes to the recognition of our studies, the SEP continues to fail to address the problem. I have been part of forums, panels and seminars where the SEP has been invited to participate but where they have failed come to the table with representatives that have the power and authority to give continuity to the issue. It was only until recently that the SEP participated in a seminar on Dreamers who had been deported to Mexico where two kinds of Dreamers would also attend: The beneficiaries of the Deferred Action (DACA) who visited Mexico in a “study abroad” program (and are able to return to the US) and those who have already arrived in Mexico without a return ticket and the privilege of this mobility.
No representative from SEP had been initially included in the speaker’s list. That was evident in the program agenda previously published and to those of us who would be participating as conference panelists. Three days prior to the seminar, I received a call from MundoFox News informing me that a roundtable with the foreign press was scheduled with SEP Secretary Emilio Chauyffet in which he would address education reform and where the issue of access to education of returned youth would be brought up. Some of us were interviewed after the press roundtable and featured on the news clip.
Although the news segment opens in a rather hopeful tone about the possibility of a nearby solution, what becomes apparent to me in the remarks by Secretary Chauyffet is that nobody is willing to take responsibility for tackling the revalidation Goliath. It is much more convenient to frame it as an issue arising from a constitutional conflict between the federal SEP and the regional SEP offices, in which each state in Mexico maintains autonomy in implementing procedures for the revalidation of foreign education. Rather, the SEP should take responsibility and propose policy changes at the federal level to standardize requirements and practices across the country AND to remove outdated and unnecessary bureaucratic barriers so that we have an educational system that is responsive to the needs of its citizens. However, that approach would require political will that is currently absent.
Video: Mexican Secretary of Education Emilio Chauyffet meets with foreign press (Spanish):
SEP also lacks an understanding of the conditions upon which Dreamers are returning to Mexico; deportation and “unplanned” return problematizes the logic that only views the problem as one of information. In my case, I had no time to review revalidation requirements while in the U.S. and no information system would have helped me to compile required documents when my plans did not include returning to Mexico. This is not to minimize the importance of making this information readily accessible in a centralized manner when you need it. However, I think an adequate solution must consider the precariousness of forced return. What are the options for a Dreamer who is already in Mexico and is unable to obtain the required documents from the US? A government entity in Mexico should facilitate obtaining all these documents which are given so much importance in the accreditation and recognition of foreign studies. Despite lacking concrete proposals or signaling in any way that they understand the problem of lack of access to education for Dreamers, the SEP became interested in learning more about the seminar on deported Dreamers only after they received inquiries from the media about their participation.
This is what led to the attendance of the SEP Deputy Secretary of Higher Education, Efren Rojas Dávila, at seminar where he joined the organizing committee in the opening ceremony. What happened next I could only remember it with rage and indignation, feelings that resurfaced when I read the press statement the SEP released just days after the seminar:
[…] Deputy Secretary of Higher Education spoke with young people born in Mexico and who, for various reasons, were brought to the United States.
He learned about their life experiences and the problems they face in their struggle for education, family separation, the difficulty of adaptation and cultural identification.
[…] Efren Rojas said the seminar topics are of great importance for the government led by President Enrique Peña Nieto, and therefore to the Secretariat of Public Education, which is working to offer more alternatives, given that the rights of children and young people are protected no matter where they are.
The problem with this statement is that our experiences and reality show that it DOES matter WHERE we are. If you are a DACAmented Dreamer visiting from the US, the SEP is interested to talk and meet with you. This is palpable in the Deputy Secretary’s remarks, “It is a privilege to have your home” and concludes with a warm welcome “enjoy your country and enjoy your Mexico”. But if you end up being one of us, the type of Dreamer whose visit is not temporary or who was not brought to Mexico by US institutions, but rather a deportee or returnee living on this side of the border indefinitely, there is no academic exchange program for you, there will be no welcoming remarks nor meeting offered to you.
We demand an education reform that includes returned Dreamers
If you are lucky enough, you may be given a brief chat with a government official that you followed and cornered in the hallway after his opening remarks, even if the tone of his interaction with you is somewhat condescending. It is right then and there that you realize that the commitment made publicly just a moment ago to “provide more alternatives to young Dreamers” so that their “their universal rights” are protected is reduced to a meeting that you maybe get next week, or the following, or maybe never. What was previously transmitted as an act of good faith and interest to solve a problem that affects hundreds of thousands, it is now your problem to solve when you are challenged to propose a solution as expressing your concerns and exposing the problem is not enough. In a blink of an eye, you see in action the art of disposal – when a public official can effortlessly disown the responsibility inherent in his job, and how easily he places the burden on you. This is only a microcosm of how the bureaucracy in Mexico supersedes the obligation of the state to serve its citizens.
* English translation done by blog author
This blog post was initially published in Spanish on April 3, 2015. Click HERE to read blog post in Spanish.