Carrying the Mexican flag in their vanguard and hollering "Viva Mexico," large numbers of students in the Los Angeles area walked out of their classrooms Friday to protest enforcement of the nation's immigration laws:
On the eve of a large rally planned downtown, hundreds of Los Angeles-area high school students staged a walkout Friday to protest proposed federal legislation that calls for building a 700-mile-long wall along the Mexican border and making felons of illegal immigrants.
We lived in Mexico for over seven years. As an American who lived there legally, I became intimately familiar with all aspects of the way of life. Both the WifeWonk (who was a public school teacher) and our daughter ( the TeenWonk) were born there.
Disrupting classes at more than half a dozen schools, students marched onto city streets waving Mexican flags and clutching red, white and green balloons as they chanted "Viva Mexico!"
"Without immigrants, this country wouldn't be anything," said freshman Anna Benitez, as she joined about 500 fellow Huntington Park High students outside the school on Firestone Boulevard. "This protest is not about rebellion. We're not criminals. We're in this country to work."
Walkouts also took place at Garfield, Roosevelt and Montebello high schools, while students at South Gate, Bell and San Fernando high schools protested on campus. At Bell, teacher Joan Dooley said hundreds of students climbed the gates when administrators declared a lockdown.
"Those kids had a right to walk out," Dooley said. "When they saw this huge mob … they should have opened the gate."
Outside South East High in South Gate, at least one person was arrested on suspicion of throwing bottles at police officers, but it was unclear if it was a student, said Dan Isaacs, chief operating officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District. For the most part, however, the protests were peaceful, causing a few traffic tie-ups, he said.
In Riverside County, 400 students at two campuses in the Moreno Valley Unified School District held rallies but did not leave school grounds, officials said.
Students said they were protesting what activists see as mostly punitive legislation proposed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) that the House passed in December.
Sensenbrenner's bill would crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, penalize those who assist them and step up enforcement along the Mexican border, a move that could include erecting 700 miles of fencing.
The bill would also make it a felony to enter the country illegally. Supporters say tougher controls are needed to secure the country's border and to protect American jobs.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin hearings Monday on a possible compromise bill, after several weeks of debate over whether to concentrate solely on enforcement or to also develop a temporary guest worker program. The highly charged issue has divided the Republican-controlled Congress.
"This economy is based on immigrants," said Garfield High School student William Pasillas, 14, who left campus Friday morning to participate in a rally. Pasillas said his parents came from Mexico in the 1970s and now are naturalized citizens. "Why shouldn't other people get that opportunity?"
Other students were protesting what they said was the racism that many immigrants face.
"I'm here to make sure that the Mexicans get their freedom, their rights," said Montebello High School student Jeannette Garcia, 15, who held up a sign that said "Freedom."
Los Angeles school officials said activists and community groups e-mailed students, urging them to walk out. Several students said they received fliers and heard about the demonstrations from friends.
"We have always condoned freedom of expression on our campuses," said Isaacs, the L.A. Unified official. "We do not condone students leaving campus."
A protest march in downtown Los Angeles is planned for today as part of a "Weekend of Action" against the Sensenbrenner bill and related legislation. A similar demonstration in Phoenix on Friday drew more than 15,000 protesters.
Immigrant rights groups said they were demanding more tolerant and humane laws that would give undocumented workers a chance at becoming citizens.
"We want to send a message to Congress that enough is enough, that we need real reform that gives folks here a path to legal residency and citizenship," said Alvaro Huerta, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "We don't want this second-class status."
We are saddened that the student protestors in California would embrace the Mexican flag. This banner represents a government that cares so little for its own citizens' well-being that it does little or nothing to alleviate the awful living conditions that a large segment of it's own people are condemned to endure.
This despite the fact that Mexico has bountiful fertile land and natural resources (including some of the worlds largest petroleum and natural gas reserves) within its borders.
The scale of corruption found at all levels of the government would simply be mind-boggling to most Americans but is just another fact of life for all of those who live just south of our southern border.
As for Mexico's public school system, class sizes of 50-1 in the elementary grades are relatively common, transportation (such is school busses) is not provided, and children with special needs receive few (if any) services.
Parents of children in the Mexican public school system are expected to "donate" funds to elementary schools for the purchase of instructional materials and other "necessities" such as sanitary paper, soap, and light bulbs. Parents must pay tuition for their children to attend public high schools, buy their books, and also donate funds for "necessities."
And for the record, when one lives in Mexico, one does not enroll in any public or private school, open a bank account, get a job, obtain a driver's license, turn-on the power or water, or even purchase a home without documentary evidence proving Mexican nationality and/or legal residence.
None of this prevents Mexican President Vicente Fox (bio here) from loudly demanding that the rights of persons living and working illegally in the United States be protected and even expanded.
As Vicente Fox has made no significant effort to reform what nearly all Mexicans would agree is a broken system, it's highly unlikely that the situation for Mexico's tens of millions of working poor will improve any time in the foreseeable future.
Seeking greater economic opportunities, the undocumented millions will continue to flood across our undefended and unprotected borders.
We live within 6 miles of the Mexican border here in California's "Imperial," Valley and I can affirm that at the present time our border patrol is both demoralized and overwhelmed as they are forced to play a strange type of "catch and release" game with thousands of people who are attempting to sneak across the border in violation of the law each and every night.
Those individuals that are caught are simply taken back to the border and released, where they are free to try again, often that same evening.
It's sort of like a board game, where one's piece lands on a square that says "start over."
Prediction: No matter what policies that Washington finally adopts, unless the border is secured, the rate of illegal immigration will only accelerate as millions of hopeful would-be immigrants from all parts of the world begin whispering the one word that has come to epitomize the whole undocumented immigration debate: "amnesty."