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The number of Pima County homeless youth whose parents have been deported rose 50 percent in one year, a nonprofit advocacy group reports.

There are more than 4,000 homeless youth in Pima County, and last year about 4 percent of them were children of deportees, twice as many as the previous year, according to Youth On Their Own officials.

“Unfortunately the number is likely higher than that because a lot of the kids are afraid to talk about what happened to their parents, because they may have other family members living here who may also be undocumented,” said Dane Binder, program coordinator for the nonprofit organization that helps homeless teens graduate from high school.

Most of these teens without permanent homes are U.S. citizens whose Mexican parents were either deported or detained in an immigration center for long periods.

Youth are considered homeless when they are not living with their parents, bounce around from family member to family member or stay at friends’ houses.

Many have never been to Mexico or do not speak Spanish. All they know is life in the U.S. as American kids, Binder said.

“Legally it is not that easy for their parents to take them to Mexico,” he said. “Most of them don’t have documents to allow them to cross the border, and a lot of them become involved in the child welfare system.”

The Mexican government allows its citizens who have children in the U.S. to apply for dual citizenship for the children, said Ricardo Pineda, the Mexican consul in Tucson.

U.S. children must become Mexican citizens before moving to Mexico and once they do, they can attend public schools in Mexico and receive all the rights Mexican citizens have, Pineda said.

“Mexico recognizes dual citizenship, and that doesn’t affect you in any possible way of being an American citizen,” he said.

However many Mexican parents living in the U.S. are either not aware of the possibility of dual citizenship, or do not apply.