Student march decries Border Patrol presence
By George B. Sánchez and Dale Quinn
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/210386
The Tucson Police Department and the Tucson Unified School District no longer will summon Border Patrol officials or immigration authorities to school grounds, officials said Tuesday.
The announcement came hours after dozens of students marched against a family's deportation that played out at two Midtown schools.
Nearly 100 students assembled outside Catalina Magnet High School early Tuesday and marched Downtown to the Federal Building and eventually Tucson police headquarters, protesting the process that allowed U.S. Border Patrol agents onto their campus.
The student march was sparked by the Thursday deportation of a Catalina student and his family after school officials found a small amount of marijuana in the boy's backpack. The officials called police, who notified the Border Patrol after learning that his family was living here illegally. The family's younger son, attending Doolen Middle School, also was pulled from class and deported.
"We're mad because immigration came into our school," said 16-year-old Mario Portillo, one of the protesting students. "The kid broke the law. He was wrong. This isn't about him."
The effect has been chilling, one of Portillo's classmates said.
"Some students aren't going to school because they don't feel safe," said Lizeth Grijalva, 17. "We can't have this at schools."
TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer and Assistant Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor met late Tuesday morning to discuss the incident.
"They came to an agreement that what happened on Thursday will not happen on a campus again," said Chyrl Hill Lander, a TUSD spokeswoman. "The implementation of immigration law will not be done on school grounds."
Tucson police officers no longer will call Border Patrol agents to schools or churches, Villaseñor said. However, police will provide information to the federal government that will allow those officials to follow up on the investigation, he said. The change is based on Border Patrol policy not to respond to schools or churches unless agents are asked to do so.
Under the new policy, Border Patrol agents never would have been called to Catalina, 3645 E. Pima St., although the family of the boy who allegedly brought pot to campus still may have been deported.
Amy Rezzonico, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education, said she had not heard of deportations resulting from an on-campus incident. School officials are forbidden to ask about a student's legal status, she noted.
"We can't ask. That is a federal law," she said. "We educate students regardless."
Warren Allison, TUSD's school-safety coordinator, said school officials had to contact police because the student was caught with drugs.
"By state law, if you have contraband, we have to call the police," he said. "After that, it's on them."
As students gathered in front of Police Department headquarters, 270 S. Stone Ave., Pfeuffer relayed the same message.
Grijalva, a senior, said the students wanted an explanation from police about why Border Patrol agents were notified this time.
Villaseñor said the arresting officer learned through the course of the investigation that the boy and his family were in the country illegally.
"We are obligated to notify the proper authorities when we become aware of criminal activity," he said.
When some of the protesting students learned of the new policy, they said they were glad it barred immigration officials from schools, but they remained concerned about local police enforcing federal immigration laws.
"I still think the Police Department shouldn't be allowed to ask someone about their citizenship," Portillo said. "That's not their job. Their job is to keep us safe and ensure our rights."
The students said they began organizing the march late last week by sending each other text messages and e-mails.
As the students marched through the streets Tuesday, they chanted, "Sí se puede" and "We are students, not criminals," and carried signs that read: "Migra out of our schools."
Villaseñor and Pfeuffer both acknowledged that the students had protested peacefully and sparked an insightful discussion. Pfeuffer also told the students that it's important to have these kinds of talks in a school setting, not just during protests.
TUSD's regular absence policy will apply to students who took part in the nearly five-mile march, Lander said. A student with a parent's note or whose parents called to explain the absence will be excused.
No attendance numbers were available Tuesday, Lander said, but Catalina has 1,482 enrolled.
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Ernesto Portillo: Students were right to protest, and don't be surprised to see more marches like this.