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Arizona Students Stage Walkout To Protest Immigration Bills

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WASHINGTON -- Students from eight Phoenix, Ariz.-area high schools walked out of class and toward the state capitol on Friday to protest a wave of new bills proposed by state Sen. Russell Pearce, the principal backer of last year's controversial law, SB 1070.

Undeterred by the spate of lawsuits challenging that legislation, Pearce introduced new bills this session aimed at driving unauthorized immigrants out of the state, in part by depriving them of services that their tax dollars go to support. His omnibus immigration bill, SB 1611, would require schools to report students who cannot produce documents verifying their U.S. citizenship or legal residence, which legal scholars say would violate the right of children in the United States to attend public school.

"This is all aiming for Supreme Court test cases by doing something that is over the constitutional line," Gabriel Chin, a law professor at the University of Arizona, charged last month. "It's really alarming and astonishing that they would deliberately violate the Constitution in this way."

The student protesters aren't thrilled about it, either. "What they're trying to do with SB 1611 is violate human rights," Ana, a 17-year-old high schooler, said in a phone interview during the protest (she declined to give her last name, citing possible legal repercussions). "We have a right to an education."

Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982's Plyler v. Doe that schools cannot discriminate based on a would-be student's immigration status, meaning SB 1611 is almost certainly unconstitutional.

The students who gathered at the Phoenix Capitol building said they hoped to convince lawmakers to abandon Pearce's bills, leading chants such as, "Education, not deportation" and "We are students, we have rights, we are here to stand and fight."

Luis Osorio, a community organizer who works with the group Puente Arizona, said the walkouts were planned by high school students, many of whom have been protesting Arizona's immigration laws since before the passage of SB 1070 last year.

Pearce has banned some protests from the building, claiming the state's constitution gives him the right to bar certain people, including Puente's Sal Reza, from the grounds. Pearce also banned the public from news conferences within the state legislature.

Immigrants who entered the country illegally have few options for gaining legal status, particularly after the Dream Act failed in the U.S. Senate in December. That bill would have allowed students who came to the United States as children to stay legally if they attended college or served in the military for two years. Students who are not citizens must pay out-of-state tuition in Arizona, even if they are longtime residents, and under Pearce's SB 1611 would be turned away from community colleges.

Ana, the high school protester, declined to say whether she would be immediately impacted by the latest Pearce bills, telling HuffPost she is a "citizen of the Earth" and has lived in Phoenix for virtually her "entire life."

"These bills would hurt everyone," said Ana, who wants to attend college after she graduates from high school. "Keeping students out of schools hurts the schools and the teachers, too. It hurts everyone in the state."

Pearce and other advocates of his immigration bills say they'll save the state money by driving out undocumented immigrants. Critics of the bills counter that they are a waste of money: Arizona's state government has spent more than $1.5 million defending SB 1070, and business associations reported losing millions from boycotts of the state and canceled travel.

Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, whether through sales tax on items they purchase, government withholding from paychecks or by filing income taxes using alternatives to a Social Security number provided by the Internal Revenue Service.