As hundreds of high school students across the region cut classes last March to join in protests against a House immigration-enforcement bill, Anartia Gambon, 15, of South Lakes High School, chose something different.
“We wanted to let people know exactly what was going on,” said Anartia. “I thought about how [protests] would get so many people in trouble.”
Unwilling to disrupt school and learning, Anartia and a few other classmates talked with Principal Bruce Butler to schedule a room after school.
Then, the students met once a week to discuss immigration law, and more particularly House bill H.R. 4437, which would impose harsher penalties on illegal aliens and their employers.
“The bill is too strict,” said Anartia. “There are students whose parents are illegals and it would affect them. According to the House bill, they’d be wardens of the state; their lives would be ruined because their parents would be taken away.”
AFTER MONTHS of meetings, Anartia and a group of about 10 other students gathered outside of South Lakes Friday after school to voice their opposition to the House bill.
Isabella Haene, another student at South Lakes, said the gathering was a final gesture to stand up for their rights. “We want to show our pride and show who we are and let people know what’s going on,” said the half Peruvian-half Swiss sophomore born in the U.S.
“As principal, I support their right to assemble and their right to petition the government,” said Butler, who commended the students for researching the issues.
All of the students favored the Senate proposal on undocumented immigrant workers, which focuses more on border control, over the measure in the House of Representatives.
“I don’t think [the House bill] is fair,” said Isabella.
The students unanimously opposed the proposal in the House bill that would make it a felony to be in the country illegally and penalize Americans who aid the estimated 11 million or more undocumented workers in the U.S.
“The fact that they’re making it a felony for everybody who helps or aids a person in need is wrong,” said Anartia.
Jimena Lavayen, 16, a freshman who came to the country legally from Bolivia, said she had friends whose parents could be deported as felons if the law ever passed.
THE STUDENTS said their message has been well received at South Lakes, one of the county’s most diverse high schools. “We have everything here,” said Isabella. “Some people who are 18 now, we told them to go out and vote. Go out into the community and take a stand.”
Jimena recently completed a class presentation on immigration laws. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Several other students agreed. “I used to not know anything about it, but now I know what’s going on,” said Alexander Campos, a junior who attended the gathering and the after-school sessions.
“We wanted to learn about what was going on — not just have a walk out,” said Santos Cerda, 15.
The House immigration bill has since been sent to the Senate, but lawmakers remain divided on a comprehensive reform bill.