Dozens of Mesa junior high and high school students and community members held up homemade signs, carried the U.S. flag and chanted “Si se puede,” or “Yes We Can,” Friday morning as they protested Arizona controversial immigration bill.
They lined up along Main Street in front of Pioneer Park, wore white shirts symbolizing unity and peace, and cheered as drivers honked when they drove by.
Their signs read “We are future voters,” “Is it a crime to be born here and have brown skin?” and “Hear my voice today — Count my vote tomorrow.”
The protest, which was organized through text messages, had students participating from Kino, Mesa, Powell, Taylor and Poston junior high schools, and Westwood High School. They started protesting at 9 a.m. and planned to continue through early Friday afternoon.
Xochilt Morales, a Westwood High School senior, said she wants to keep participating in protests against SB1070, which was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer last week.
“As students, we needed to show the governor that without us Hispanics, they’re going to lose a lot of money,” said Morales, 18, who has lived in Mesa for 12 years and whose family is from Mexico. “There are a lot of Latin Americans who go to school here and they are immigrants. They came here for their kids to have a better education than they had.”
The new law, which is expected to begin in about 90 days barring any court action, requires police to check the immigration status of people they come into contact with if they have “reasonable suspicion” they are in this country illegally.
However, HB 2162, approved by both the House and Senate late Thursday, will require police to only ask about legal status if they have stopped the person for another legal reason. The new bill says police may not use race, ethnicity or national origin as the main factor for stopping the person.
Magdalena Schwartz, a pastor from Discipulos del Reino church in Mesa, came out to help the students and make sure they weren’t blocking traffic or doing anything illegal. She also excused her 15-year-old son from school so he could participate in the protest.
“They (students) have a right to protest, and they want to participate in the civic movement,” said Schwartz, 52, a Mesa resident for 22 years who is originally from Chile. “Many have parents without papers, and they don’t want to leave.”
Schwartz said the law is going to hurt the Mesa Unified School District if the families move to another state or move back to Mexico.
“I hope this country wakes up about what the immigrants are doing here,” she said. “We support the criminals going to jail or going back to Mexico, but families whose kids are going to school here shouldn’t be punished.”
Mesa Unified School District associate superintendent Delfino Alemán said he met with community leaders and about 15 parents Thursday evening concerning their plans to protest on Friday. He said he encouraged the parents to keep their children in school so they would not miss learning or testing that often takes place on Fridays.
“School is the safest place for students. We didn’t know if they would be under their parents’ supervision. School is important. We encouraged them not to leave their campuses,” Alemán said. “But if a student chooses to leave, we won’t restrain them.”
The students could receive an unexcused absence.
Alemán said he was told there are groups of protesters at Pioneer Park and Skyline Park, as well as on the sidewalk in front of Skyline High School. He said there are a “handful” of kids involved in the protest outside Skyline High.
Zaid Ruiz, an 8th grader from Kino Junior High School, said he started forwarding texts to let fellow students know about the protest. Many of the students also participated in a 10-mile march last Friday around Mesa. Ruiz was born in Phoenix and his family is from Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.
“I want people who are here to stay here,” said Ruiz, 14, who carried a “Terminate SB1070 Now” sign. “I don’t want families broken up.”
The students planned to continue protesting until there was a change in the law.
Joshua Schwartz, Magdalena’s son who is a ninth grader from Taylor Junior High School, said he came out to show how unjust the law is. His sign said “What is my crime?”
“I want to let the Senate know that this law is unjust and unconstitutional,” said Schwartz, 15, who wore yellow fabric around his head to show he was one of the student protest leaders. “I wish there could be more people out here today.”