About 41 percent of all Mexicans between ages 16 and 19 in the city have dropped out of school, according to census data.
No other major immigrant group has a dropout rate higher than 20 percent, and the overall rate for the city is less than 9 percent, the statistics show.
This crisis endures at the college level. Among Mexican immigrants 19 to 23 who do not have a college degree, only 6 percent are enrolled. That is a fraction of the rates among other major immigrant groups and the native-born population.
Moreover, these rates are significantly worse than those of the broader Mexican immigrant population in the United States.
The problem is especially unsettling because Mexicans are the fastest-growing major immigrant group in the city, officially numbering about 183,200, according to the Census Bureau, up from about 33,600 in 1990. Experts say the actual figure is far larger, given high levels of illegal immigration.
A small group of educators and advocates have begun various educational initiatives for Mexicans, and there is evidence of recent strides.
But the educators and advocates say that unless these efforts are sustained, and even intensified, the city may have a large Mexican underclass for generations.
“We are stanching an educational hemorrhage, but only partially,” said Robert C. Smith, a sociology professor at the City University of New York who studies the local Mexican population.
“The worst outcomes are still possible,” he added.
Experts say the crisis stems from many factors — or what Dr. Smith called “a perfect storm of educational disadvantage.”
Many Mexicans are poor and in the country illegally. Parents, many of them uneducated, often work in multiple jobs, leaving little time for involvement in their children’s education.
Some are further isolated from their children’s school life because of language barriers or fear that contact with school officials may lead to deportation.
Unlike some other immigrant populations, like the Chinese, Mexicans have few programs for tutoring or mentoring.
“We don’t have enough academic role models,” said Angelo Cabrera, 35, a Mexican immigrant who runs a nonprofit group that tutors Mexican and Mexican-American students in the basement of a church in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.
Many young illegal immigrants in New York City say there is no point in staying in school because their lack of legal status limits their access to college scholarships and employment opportunities. Some drop out under the erroneous belief that they are not eligible to attend college. (Illegal immigrants who graduate from a high school in New York State or earn a G.E.D. are not only allowed to attend the state’s public university system, but are also eligible for in-state tuition.)
“They just give up,” said Karina Sosa, 22, a Mexican-American undergraduate at Baruch College and an education activist.
Educational achievement among Mexican immigrants is worse in New York than in the broader Mexican population around the country in part, experts say, because Mexicans in the city have shallower roots, less stable households and higher rates of illegal immigration.
Ivan Lucero, who emigrated illegally from Mexico with his mother when he was 6 and grew up in the Belmont area of the Bronx, said his parents urged him to stay in school and study. But his father was distracted by long work days, and his mother, who did not speak English, had no contact with the school.
Mr. Lucero said he began skipping classes to hang out with other young Mexicans who had formed a gang. Once heavily Italian, the neighborhood was experiencing an influx of Mexicans.
Mexican children were filling Belmont’s schools, Mexican workers were staffing restaurants in the Little Italy section around Arthur Avenue and Mexican-owned shops were popping up on every other block.
Many young Mexicans were compelled to get jobs to help their families. In high school, Mr. Lucero began working as a busboy, which further distracted him from school work, he said. He was forced to repeat 10th grade twice, though he would lie to his parents about how he was doing.
“You don’t think of nothing else but having fun with your friends, meeting up with girls, having your boys with you,” Mr. Lucero said. “The last thing you think of is school.”
He was expelled when he was 18, while still in 10th grade. Most of his Mexican friends from high school also dropped out and entered the work force, and so did one of his younger brothers.
“I don’t see many Mexican kids going to school,” said Mr. Lucero, now 28 and working as a waiter. “It’s horrible.”