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Cali. Students Defy Lockdown, Walk Out for Immigrant Rights*

by Aura Bogado

For a fourth consecutive schoolday, high school students defied orders and left campus to protest national anti-immigrant legislation, while others were trapped inside their classrooms.

*A correction was appended to this news article after initial publication.

Los Angeles; Mar. 30, 2006 – Carlos Moreno, 17, walked out of Cleveland High School in the Los Angeles Valley on a rainy Tuesday to protest against a litany of immigration proposals now before Congress.

"I was born here," he said, "but I’m doing it for my parents, and for my family, and for all the Latinos, because I know what the struggle is."

Along with hundreds of other students, Moreno headed to Reseda High School, some three miles away, to urge students there to join them in the massive walk outs. Riot-clad police officers, on request from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), however, made sure that students from Reseda High were not able to participate.

LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer Tuesday declared all secondary schools in the District on "lockdown," using a term originating in and usually limited to the prison industry. Romer said students would not be allowed to leave campus until nutrition time – a daily recess usually scheduled around 10 a.m. for most schools. The administration at Reseda decided, however, that their lockdown would last through 1 p.m. on what was already scheduled to be a shortened day.

School district spokesperson Susan Cox said the lockdowns were set in place to protect the students and ensure their safety. The day before, hundreds of students in Los Angeles took to the Hollywood Freeway, while students in Orange County marched through the Beach Blvd. onramp on the Riverside Freeway. No students were injured.

Despite the district-wide lockdown Tuesday, according to the LAUSD, over 8,500 students walked out in Los Angeles County alone.

Roselina Garcia, 15, a student from Valley High School in Orange County, said students don’t need protection from themselves, but instead from the police who she said were equipped with guns, smoke bombs and Tasers, and shouted contradictory orders to the student demonstrators.

"They were being very aggressive – we weren’t doing anything," Garcia recounted, "They were pushing people; they were pushing everybody."

Despite the district-wide lockdown Tuesday, according to the LAUSD, over 8,500 students walked out in Los Angeles County alone – thousands more joined walk outs in neighboring Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties. Thousands of other students in the Bay area, as well as Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Texas have also left school in protest.

On Wednesday, the lockdowns proved somewhat effective at keeping students in classrooms: spokesperson Cox said that only 211 students participated. Since elementary schools were not included in the lockdown, children from Stanford Elementary in Garden Grove walked out along with students from three other secondary schools in the district.

Students began walking out of High Schools in Southern California last Friday, joining hundreds of thousands of protesters representing all ages across the US who have taken to the streets in opposition of various immigration reform proposals working their way through Congress.

Drawing on their vast network, Southern California’s immigrants have surprised the nation with a massive community response to legislative proposals that would scale back their rights.

The most liberal immigration bill in Congress was submitted in the House by Texas Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee. That bill would have allowed for legal permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US for the past 5 years, would have doubled the cap for family visas, and would increase the number of work visas. Jackson-Lee’s bill has been stalled in the Immigration Subcommittee since mid-2005.

Toward the opposite end of the spectrum, H.R. 4437, introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Peter King (R-New York) would make it even harder to ever attain residency status, and would criminalize undocumented immigrants as well as individuals and organizations that aid them.

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee approved a proposal Monday that borrowed heavily from a bill introduced by John McCain (R-Arizona) and Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts). It allows for permanent residency for those living in the United States for six years or longer, but with stiff penalties to be paid up front. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, unhappy with that bipartisan proposal, is sending his own measure to the Senate floor and urging his colleagues to ignore the Judiciary Committee’s proposal.

Both Frist and the Committee’s bills will be considered on the Senate Floor, and will go to vote next week.

Drawing on their vast network, Southern California’s immigrants have surprised the nation with a massive community response to legislative proposals that would scale back their rights. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Los Angeles City Hall Saturday to demand a stop to H.R. 4437.

Consuelo Mansano participated in the march with her entire family to oppose the House’s proposed crackdown on immigrants.

"We come here to work," she said. "We’re not like they think; we’re not bad people. They should give us the benefit of being able to stay. We love the United States, but we also want the United States to let us stay here. And our strength is in our unity, and this is a way to demonstrate to the government that united, we can gain something."

Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, an immigrants rights advocate in Orange County, said that students are currently discussing a range of actions for Friday, including staging marches and sit-ins inside schools, walking out of schools once again, or simply not attending school at all and taking to the streets to avoid the lockdown altogether.


Minor Change:

In the original version of this story, the state affiliations for Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy were switched.

 | Change Posted March 31, 2006 at 01:47 AM EST

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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This News Article originally appeared in the March 30, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Aura Bogado is a contributing journalist.