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Children dress in costume at Capitol protest

A future doctor led the march with Cassandra Belson, and yelled, “What do we want?” into the loudspeaker. The marchers responded, “Freedom.” (Photo by Yvonne Gonzalez)
A future doctor led the march with Cassandra Belson, and yelled, “What do we want?” into the loudspeaker. The marchers responded, “Freedom.” (Photo by Yvonne Gonzalez)

Photos: To view a photo slideshow of the event, click here

Children dressed in doctor’s coats, hard hats and police uniforms marched to the Arizona Capitol Wednesday in protest of several immigration bills being considered by the Legislature.

The Repeal Coalition, an organization that advocates the repeal of the state’s anti-immigrant legislation, led the protest.

Cassandra Brown, community organizer for the group, said the costumes were meant to symbolize how several current bills would harm the future of Arizona’s children.

“We want to wedge a space in the immigration debate for youth so they can stand up to the hateful legislation that affects them and their families,” Belson said.

Among other bills currently in the Legislature, the group protested the possible passage of Senate Bill 1611, a bill that would require, among other things, parents or guardians to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency to enroll a pupil in school. The bill would also require proof of citizenship before admittance into a community college or university.

Belson said 1611 and the other bills are not the answer to the immigration issue.

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, is sponsoring SB 1611 and spoke to the Senate Appropriations committee on Feb. 22 about the bill. He said his first concern was for the citizens of Arizona.

“Our violent crime rates since we’ve been passing these bills has dropped three times that of the national average,” Pearce said. “We know we’re having an impact.”

Protester Maria Amaral’s two uncles were deported two weeks ago and the 13-year-old middle school student traveled from Flagstaff with other young students to show the impact the bills have on families.

“I want to do something that is good for the cause,” she said. “I don’t want to lose more of my family than I already have.”

Amaral was a former student of Mountain English Spanish Academy where NAU education professor Gerald Wood taught before the school closed.

Wood attended the protest and said it was difficult to see his former students going into high school and SB 1611 would deny them access to college.

“These laws make it really hard and cut off all avenues for people to better themselves,” Wood said. “It’s important for young people to come to these types of protests because they can see other people fighting and feel empowered to say what is happening to them.”

Malcolm Olson, an aspiring baseball player, came down from Flagstaff with his family and wore a baseball cap and carried a baseball bat. The 9-year-old spoke to the crowd about his fears and those of his classmates.

“My friends are endangered and threatened and I don’t want them to go to Mexico and live on the streets,” Olson said. “I want them to stay here and have a good education.”

Olson, a student at Flagstaff’s Puente de Hozho, said many of his classmates are Hispanic.

“They’re still here but if [SB 1611] comes through a lot of them are going to have to go back to Mexico,” he said.

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