Middle School Students Protest Proposed Bill

For the second time in one week, a group of East Texas students walked out of class this morning to rally against proposed immigration changes in Congress. The house bill the students were protesting would make it a felony to enter the U.S. illegally. It also looks to punish those who help an undocumented immigrant. Students from Stewart Middle School marched nearly four miles from their campus to the downtown square.

Chanting and waving the Mexican flag, about 40 students rallied at the square downtown. "We just want to get our voice out there, tell them what we think. It's better if we can do it as a whole school than one person at a time," said 7th grader Stormy Padron.

The march began shortly after 8:30 this morning. Miguel Gaona, 14, who says his family are illegal immigrants, took part in the march. "We came to march cause we want to stay here, because in Mexico there's not many opportunities to be somebody in your life and I want to stay here and be a doctor so I can have a life," he said.

Students we spoke with said they decided to hold the demonstration, after seeing last week's protest by John Tyler High School students. Unlike last week's march, this one was more calm. A few officers from the Tyler Police Department were on hand to monitor the situation. "At first I thought we was gonna get in trouble but I stopped and asked one of the cops and he said he was just riding up here to make sure. He just told us to stay off the street," said Jonathan Ocampo, an 8th grader.

Students say their parents gave them permission to take part in the protest. "Everybody went to go ask their parents and the parents said yes. So we all just met up before school," said 7th grader Shalamar Colon.

TISD officials say those who took part in the march will be given an unexcused absence. "There are other ways that they can have their voices heard, that it can be before or after school hours or on the weekend. We believe it's important for kids to be in school when school's in session," said TISD Director of Communications Katherine Oates Erickson. The students say speaking for those whose voices cannot be heard outweighs the consequences.

After the rally downtown, the students went to Bergfeld Park. One of the students told us, parents picked everyone up from there by one o'clock.

Oralia Ortega reporting, ortega@kltv.com