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Students lead protest
The sound of horns honking and people cheering echoed down 16th Street Wednesday morning as group of local teens protested recently signed legislation aimed at identifying those in Arizona who are in the country illegally.
About 75 students from Yuma, Gila Ridge, Kofa, Cibola and San Luis high schools were among the protesters, some of which began their protest at 9 a.m. in San Luis, Ariz.
Yuma High sophomores Amairani Rodriguez, Gabrial Bustillos and Maribel Figueroa said they helped organize the event Wednesday, where students traveled from San Luis and ended up lining the north side of 16th Street near the Inca Lanes Bowling Alley.
The group was without opposition midmorning Wednesday. At times, a patrol car from the Yuma Police Department kept an eye toward the crowd, periodically reminding the students over the loudspeaker to stay out of the street.
Drivers of vehicles of all kinds honked at the protesters, including the driver of a school bus and one driver of a city of Yuma vehicle, though it was not clear which vehicles honked in support and which ones honked in opposition.
"We told three people and those three people to tell three people," said Bustillos, 15.
The organizers also said they helped spread the word through the social networking site MySpace.com.
"Stop SB 1070" was included in some of the messages the protesters displayed, ranging from signs and the message written on the protesters' car windows.
Arizona's SB 1070, set to take effect July 29, requires police to check someone's immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that person is in this country illegally. As originally approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, SB 1070 would have allowed police to consider race, ethnicity or national origin in making that determination, as long as other factors were also considered.
Last week, however, lawmakers approved and Brewer signed changes that preclude those factors from entering into an officer's decision of whether to inquire.
The protesting students all agreed that they don't think the law is right.
"We think the governor is just doing that for her image, and she's just not thinking about the people," said 16-year-old Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said it is similar to what happened to Jewish people during World War II.
"Just how Jews were labeled with the Star of David, are they going to label Mexicans now?" she asked.
The students also answered questions about why they were waving Mexican flags - when advertisements for similar protests in Yuma and throughout the state have called for protesters to bring American flags.
However, members of the morning protest said they had Mexican flags readily available at their houses.
"If we had money to buy American flags, we would, but we don't," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, Bustillos and Figueroa also told the Yuma Sun Wednesday their parents are legal citizens and/or already involved in the immigration process.
So what do the students think about those who are in the country illegally and utilizing services that tax dollars paid for?
"They're just making it worse for us," said 17-year-old Celia Perez, junior at Yuma High.
When people label all of those who come to the country illegally as committing other crimes while in the U.S., it's wrong, she said.
"That doesn't mean everybody is the same," she said.
Though most of the students showed up to the protest by carpooled caravans, some were dropped off by parents.
Toni Badone, superintendent of the Yuma Union High School District, said if students missed school and their parents knew about it, that's one thing, but if students either arrived at school then left without permission or their parents were not notified that they would be absent, there are consequences for missing school.
She said more than five absences can mean a student could lose credit for the semester.
It's all about community between the school, the parents and the students, Badone said. She called it a "triangle of trust."
Martha Paleo dropped off her 16-year-old-daughter, Reina, and three of her daughter's friends just after 10 a.m. Wednesday. Paleo said she heard about the protest from cashiers at a local grocery store, and she was happy that her daughter wanted to participate.
Paleo said she knows families who are considering moving to another state or back to Mexico because of the law, which will go into affect in just under three months.
"They say it's not right, it's not possible that this happens in our state," she said. "It's the land for immigrants, it's the land for everybody."
Paleo said the students who showed up Wednesday to protest for what they believe in "have heart."
"They said we're the generation that needs to stand up for what we believe in," Rodriguez said.