Hispanic Students Who Protest Face Severe Punishment

In response to massive student walk outs to protest the highly controversial immigration bill, many high schools throughout the country have enforced strict attendance regulations and in some areas, suspension.

Last week in Los Angeles an estimated 36,000 students walked out of their classrooms, the majority of them were Hispanic. Word of the protests spread quickly through word of mouth and the website, myspace.com.

Students from schools such as Stuart High School and Wakefield High School, both in Fairfax, Va. and over 40 percent Hispanic, joined in protests last week at a park across the street from Washington-Lee High School.

A small crowd of students gathered at Stuart High School and began marching into Arlington County picking up more students at schools such as Wakefield High School in Arlington; eventually the small crowd had grown into about 200 students. “We started getting bigger, so we left the school; we were like ‘We’ll just keep walking.’ We’re showing the government we’re big,” said Louie Martinez a student at Stuart in a recent Washington Post article.

Students who choose to participate in the protests in Fairfax and Arlington County were given unexcused absences in which they will not be allowed to make-up any missed work. Elsewhere, students were threatened with suspension. “Students were being considered for harsher punishment if they were chronic truants or if there were an aggravating factor, such as an arrest,” reported a recent Los Angeles Times article.

At issue is a proposed immigration bill that will make it a felony for immigrants to live in the United States without the proper documentation, it will also be a felony for U.S. citizens to aid undocumented citizens. Many believe that the bill will deplete many jobs that only immigrant workers are willing to do, “they know that this bill unfairly cuts the legs of the working immigrant community,” said Arlington County Board Member, Walter Tejada (D) who joined several students in protests last week.

In 2003, Black students marched to the U.S. Capitol in response to legislation that would eliminate affirmative action. Rather than give students unexcused absences, many professors at Howard University cancelled class.

Meghan Greene, a senior at Howard University participated in the protests. “Class is important but that particular day I felt like it was more important. If I didn’t go all of my hard work would be in vain because I wouldn’t be able to find a job after graduation,” she said.

Protests against the proposed bill are similar to those in the 1960’s, fed up with poor living conditions in East Los Angeles, 20,000 Latino students walked out of their classrooms. "There was a sense of frustration that they saw with their parents in terms of the tenor of the immigration debate,” said Andres Jimenez, director of the California Policy Research Center at the University of California to a Los Angeles Times reporter.

“This group is being singled out as a ‘problem group.’ And they wanted to seek an avenue to respond to that, to show that on the contrary, this group is very much a part of the broader society,” he said.