About 200 students skipped school this morning to march down the streets of Tyler. They were protesting congressional efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. A House of Representatives version of the immigration bill, H.R. 4437, passed late last year. The Senate is debating its own version now.
The proposal would tighten immigration laws, including making illegal immigration a felony. That has sparked protests throughout the country, the latest of which, included students from John Tyler High School.
The march began in front of the school at around 8:35. Protesters walked from the school, more than 3.25 miles to the downtown square. They continued another .75 mile to Fleishel Avenue, and then returned to the square.
Most of the students wore red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag. Some carried signs, while others waved the Mexican flag. "I'm here to support every immigrant out there," said John Tyler High School student, Irving Ragilla.
At times, the demonstrators walked in front of moving traffic, but were quickly told by police to get on the sidewalk. The demonstrators complied.
"I'm here today not necessarily for Mexicans but for all illegal aliens that have suffered to cross the border for a better life and opportunities in America," said John Tyler High School freshman Gemini Garza.
"We are doing this to help other people, not just us. You know, it's not just Mexican people we're helping. It's other races we're helping too. Not only Mexicans are being discriminated. Other races too," said student Perla Tarango.
A number of parents and other relatives joined the demonstration when it reached the square. "They're discriminating against Mexicans and that can't be. Because we're here, a lot of us illegal, but they work. Many illegal workers pay taxes, pay for everything. They also contribute to the city," said Maria Elena Estrada, 51, who was once an illegal immigrant. She says she now has her legal papers but she wants to support those who do not.
There were some tense moments during the protest downtown between those who came to show their support and officials. "You remember in 1987 when a bunch of Ku Klux Klan members were over there. Y'all didn't break them up," said someone in the crowd. The comment was made after students were told that buses were on their way to pick them up. TISD officials said they made those arrangements, after Tyler Police informed them that some students asked for transportation back to campus.
The students were taken back at school by noon. Every student we spoke with told us, their parents knew they were at the march.
Students say they hope the bill dies in the Senate, before it reaches the President's desk to become law.