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Facing Repercussions, High School Students Defy Administrators And Walk Out For Immigrant Rights

The fallout from last week’s “Day Without Immigrants,” which saw restaurant and daycare employees strike across the United States, started immediately, with at least 100 people fired from their jobs. High school students faced the prospect of similar repercussions, but nonetheless, they recognized the power of protest and participated in actions.

Hundreds of high school students in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex staged their own walkouts during the day of action on February 16. Students enthusiastically filed out of class carrying homemade signs, which read “No Human Is Illegal,” “I Am an Immigrant,” along with a variety of creative slogans denouncing President Donald Trump for the current spike in deportations.

Students are often accused of being inattentive and indifferent toward the world around them—an argument which ignores the visceral impact of things like immigration policy on their daily lives. But not only are students aware of what is happening, many of them want to get involved in fighting for their communities in order to combat these issues.

This most recent string of protests in Dallas-Fort Worth were a part of a tradition of student protests, and they tend to make one think of the East Los Angeles walkouts, or blow-outs, of 1968 which went on to confront the systematic racism of East L.A. schools. At their peak, the protests included walkouts from five East L.A. schools and 15,000 students taking part.

Atziri, who chose to go by her first name for privacy concerns, is a 17 year-old senior at Duncanville High School, located in southern Dallas county, took part in recent protests. She told Shadowproof that the walkout planned by a few students “who wanted their voices to be heard” concerning anti-immigrant sentiment, especially related to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. “It eventually got around the school, and we all planned for it.”

Her family comes from Veracruz, Mexico, and Atziri wanted to make a stand for those impacted by U.S. immigration policy. “Many students believed there was no use, but we all feel strongly about the situation,” she said. “There’s real meaning behind the action. Our voices deserve to be heard. Everyone matters, immigrant or not.”

Fourteen year-old Jennifer Recendiz lives in Arlington, Texas, and attends Sam Houston High School. Her reasons for protesting stem from marginalization and witnessing the effects of immigration policy on her friends and family.

Recendiz comes from a Mexican family. Prior to living in Arlington, she lived in Alabama in a predominately white neighborhood, which was a “tough” experience.

“I started my freshman year at Sam Houston High School. I feel more like myself, and I express my Mexican culture more than I ever did,” Recendiz shared.

According to Sam Houston Principal Fernando Benavides, who disparaged students for protests, school attendance took a hit due to the strike.

Recendiz poignantly argued kids her age are always told to believe in themselves, and “that’s what we did.” As she recounted, students organized together and started a protest “against Trump separating our families.”

“This protest wasn’t just for Latinos. It was for everyone who feels discriminated,” Recendiz added. “I don’t know who organized the protest, but it was all over Instagram and I wanted to be part of something that I could never do at my old school.”

Despite attempts by teachers and school administrators to talk students out of walking out, many refused to listen, including Recendiz.

“I walked out in the middle of class at noon and went to the protest,” Recendiz said.

“My true purpose was that since I experienced my family not being together, I knew it that it was a terrible thing. I never want anyone to come home from school only to find out that their family [was] deported. Of course, we ended up in trouble, but it was all worth it. Trump will not divide us. I want everyone to know that just because you’re in high school or not famous, your voices can be heard too.”

As the call for a general strike builds on similar protests around the country, the likelihood that there will be other high school walkouts grows. While they may be young, these students understand, at least on a personal level, that something is deeply wrong with the way in which their communities are treated, and that this abuse is systematic.

If these walkouts are any indication, then there’s no doubt that, as the saying goes, the kids are gonna be alright.

CAPTION: In collaboration with NPR, Out of Gitmo tells the dramatic story of a Gitmo detainee released from the controversial U.S. prison after 14 years, and the struggle over freeing prisoners once deemed international terrorists. Also in this two-part hour, a second segment with Retro Report explores the untold history of the Guantanamo Bay prison. This image shows the outside of Camp VI at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Photo Credit: FRONTLINE 2017
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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.