Phoenix high school, college students organize Capitol protest

PHOTOS: Click here to view a photo slideshow of the event.

Hundreds of Phoenix high school and college students gathered at the state Capitol Friday morning to protest a new bill that would make it difficult for illegal immigrants to enroll their children in Arizona schools.

Senate Bill 1611 would, among other provisions, require parents or guardians to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency to enroll a pupil in school, regardless of the child’s immigration or citizenship status.

“Everybody has a right to get an education,” said Estieban Gomez, a freshman at Brookline College in Phoenix who came out to oppose the bill. “That is what we are out here protesting. We have a right to the freedoms listed in the Constitution and just because our parents did something illegal doesn’t mean we should be punished.”

The bill was introduced on Feb. 21 and passed the Senate Appropriations Committee by a 7-6 vote last week.

Students said the plans to protest were posted on Twitter and Facebook earlier in the week. On Thursday night a text message was sent out telling students to walk out of their classes Friday at 11 a.m. and head to the Capitol.

Andy Hernandez, an immigrant from Mexico, came out on his own to protest SB 1611, not knowing that a student protest was planned.

“I was really surprised to see the students out protesting,” Hernandez said. “I am glad they are here making their voices and opinions known.”

The students carried signs as they marched and chanted in front of the Capitol building. The signs they held bore sayings such as “We have rights” and “Education not discrimination.”

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said he was thrilled to see students out protesting the bill and had no prior knowledge of the demonstration.

“I was at my house when I got a call at 11:30 a.m. telling me that students had walked out of [Phoenix high schools] and were headed to the Capitol,” Gallardo said. “It was all organized by social media — Facebook and texting. It’s just amazing what can be put together because of social media.”

Students from at least eight high schools in the Phoenix area took part in the demonstration. Marylyn Castillo, a sophomore from James Sandoval Preparatory High School in Phoenix, said she got a forwarded text message about the protest from a friend at another school. She decided to go along and bring some of her classmates.

“Just because someone is illegal or their parents are illegal doesn’t mean their education should be taken away,” Castillo said. “If a person really wants to be educated, then let them be educated because kids and students are the future.”

Miguel Torres, a freshman from Metro Tech High School in Phoenix, said protesting is really the only way for some people to make their voices heard.

“Since we can’t vote we need to get our voices heard somehow, so we came here,” Torres said. “The youth are the future of the country but with laws like that [SB 1611], the country isn’t going to go anywhere.”

Several student protesters said they were demonstrating to take a stand against racist discrimination.

“Yes, we are out here to stop SB 1611 from passing,” said Jesus Marquez, a junior from Trevor G. Browne High School in Phoenix. “But what we are really out here to do is stop discrimination.”

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