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Smaller, Spirited Student Protests Continue

Thousands rally across region to decry federal immigration proposal. Santa Ana tells many who ditched to attend Saturday classes.

April 01, 2006|Seema Mehta and Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writers

Student protests against proposed federal immigration legislation continued across the state Friday with thousands massing at a San Diego park, a Riverside civic plaza and elsewhere in demonstrations.

Though the protests were smaller than those earlier in the week, students said they were trying to drive home their message -- that immigrants helped build this county and should be embraced.

"We're not criminals and you can't treat us that way," said Mayra Avalos, 16, a high school junior who participated in a Riverside rally.

Meanwhile in Santa Ana, more than 50 teens decried how student marchers were treated earlier in the week by police and school district officials. The Valley High School students alleged that police were unnecessarily harsh Monday when thousands took to the streets in a day when more than 40,000 students across the Southland marched off campuses. The local students also said that school administrators were overzealously punishing those who participated.

"We don't want to just read about democracy in our textbooks," said Yvette Macias, 16, a junior. "We want to experience it firsthand."

Students carrying posters reading "Student or Criminal?" in Spanish and "No Human Being is 'Illegal,' " gathered outside Valley High School and spoke out, alleging that officers jeered, threatened and assaulted students Monday. They also said they were disheartened by the way they were portrayed in the media.

Jesus Cruz, 16, a junior, said that some students used the opportunity as a day to ditch school, and that a few threw bottles and rocks at police. But, he said, the majority were peaceful protesters. "The way the police handled it was very inappropriate," he said.

A police spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Jesus said he was arrested Monday on charges of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and refusing to disperse -- all of which he disputes. He said he was being brought up for expulsion by school officials, and that other students had been suspended or issued truancy citations.

Santa Ana schools spokeswoman Susan Brandt said that the district does not fine students for truancy, and that the vast majority of the nearly 3,000 students who participated in Monday's protests were being required to attend a day of Saturday school to make up for the lost class time. Students were being considered for harsher punishment if they were chronic truants or if there were an aggravating factor, such as an arrest, she said.

"Everyone has been trying to walk a delicate line between keeping them safe and ... allowing them to express themselves," Brandt said, noting that district officials encouraged middle and high schools to create discussion forums on the issue in social studies classes. "People in the administration understand this issue is very important to our community."

Friday's protests appeared orderly.

In Riverside, a few hundred middle and high school students led a downtown march after school up University Avenue.

The group shouted "Si se puede" and "Together united, we cannot be divided" as they walked. The students carried the flags of Chile, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Russia, the United States and other countries, representing the backgrounds of the 2,500 students at John W. North High School in Riverside.

"We are standing up for what we believe in," said David Gaeta, 17, a North High senior wearing a varsity football letter jacket. "Just because you want to look for a better life doesn't make you a criminal."

Students, some of whom had said they originally wanted to ditch class to protest, opted for the extracurricular gathering -- with the administrators' blessing -- instead.

"I certainly didn't want them to walk out of school this week," said Principal Dale Kinnear, "but their passion was exciting. We're trying to help them channel that."

In San Diego, an estimated 2,000 students skipped school and converged on Chicano Park in the Barrio Logan neighborhood for a rally. Many continued the march toward downtown. Police, who did not try to keep students from leaving campus, followed the marchers and reported three arrests on minor offenses.

Oceanside and Vista schools were closed Friday to prevent violence.

About 15 truancy citations were issued during a few small demonstrations in Los Angeles. Protests of varying sizes were also seen in Bakersfield, Fresno and elsewhere.


Times staff writers Tony Perry and Ashley Powers and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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