- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Family members fleeing violence in southwestern Mexico have taken refuge with relatives living in Southern Oregon, and schools are trying to accommodate an influx of Spanish-speaking students.

Since mid-February, the Medford School District has enrolled 148 students from two southwestern states: Michoacán (Meech-ah-la-cahn) and, in smaller numbers, neighboring Guerrero (Geh-reh-roh).

Smaller nearby districts also report refugees, 17 new students in Eagle Point, 20 families in Phoenix-Talent.

“There could be more,” said Phil Ortega of the Eagle Point district. “These are just the families we’ve identified who have been forthcoming about why they are here.”

The people are mainly mothers and children, the Medford Mail Tribune (http://bit.ly/1abecPP) reports.

Fathers have been left behind to seek employment elsewhere in Mexico, said Charlie Bauer, who coordinates English language learning and migrant education for the Southern Oregon Education Service District.

The family members tell of extortion, ambushes, kidnapping and shootouts as drug organizations clash with one another, and with vigilante militia groups and government forces.

“These families have been through trauma,” Bauer said. “It’s pretty dramatic. It’s absolutely heartrending … They just considered themselves lucky to be alive.”

A local immigration lawyer, Kevin Stout, says their stay is likely to as brief as six months.

Families who seek asylum in the United States can enter, pending deportation proceedings, if they can demonstrate a credible fear of persecution and if a member of the family in the U.S. signs an affidavit of support.

An immigration judge will hear the claims, but unless they can prove they will suffer persecution because of their race, religion, national origin, political opinions or membership in a particular social group, they will be forced to return, Stout said.

“The overwhelming majority of the people arriving here will be deported,” he said.

In the meantime, children enrolling in a public school need show only that they are residents, by providing a relative’s utility bill, for example.

To respond to the influx, the Medford district hired seven part-time and full-time bilingual staff members, extended one part-time English language learning teacher to full-time, purchased additional Spanish-support materials and provided backpacks full of school supplies to several of the newcomers.

“The majority of them are exceptional students, but they don’t speak any English,” said Terri Dahl, Medford’s supervisor of federal programs and school improvement.

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Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/

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