Lufkin Students Walk Out of School

A bill that would give roughly 11 million illegal immigrants a chance for U.S. citizenship is still the center of a national debate. That debate has made it all the way to East Texas.

Friday, hundreds of Lufkin High School students walked out of class. They wanted to protest the way illegal immigrants are treated in this country.

"We're concerned about the status of our latin people," said a protestor. "We want them to know that [they will be nothing] if we leave this country."

The students marched all the way from the high school to Lufkin City Hall and on to the Angelina County Courthouse. Many of them had no idea why they were marching, but those who did said they want better treatment for hispanics in America.

"We come here - people from Mexico - to work," a student said. "They don't come to do [anything] bad. That's why people are doing this."

Some protestors said hispanics who come here have the same goals as U.S. citizens, but aren't given the same chances because of racism and stereotypes.

"We're getting treated this way because people are saying that we are criminals and they're not criminals," a marcher said. "We came here to work hard and make a better life and make something better of ourselves."

Many spectators said they're proud of the students for taking a stand, but others were not impressed. They believe taking a stand also means knowing what you stand for.

A bill approved by the House would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and build a fence along most of the U.S. border with Mexico. The measure would also tighten border security and make it a crime for illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S.

Lufkin school administrators said they learned about the potential student protest Thursday. Their biggest concern is a missed class day so close to the TAKS exam. The test is less than three weeks away.

School officials said rumors they locked the doors to the campus after the walk-out started are untrue. They understand why some students are angry about the country's immigration laws.

Superintendent Roy Knight said, "Some are frightened by what they've heard. Obviously, at Lufkin Independent School District, we have no control whatsoever over what goes on at the federal level on immigration legislation, but it directly impacts many of our students here."

Knight said walking out of school is not an expellable offense, but the students who participated will have an unexcused absense.

Many parents knew about Friday's walk-out. Not all of them agreed with how the students handled their concerns, but many are proud their kids stood up for the rights of others.

Some of the students who protested Friday are undocumented immigrants. Many have parents who came to America in search of a better life.

Leticia Venegas said, "If [the] United States had a lot of money, [it] is because us. We pay taxes, we pay everything here. We work hard. We come from Mexico to work hard here and that's not fair. We help [the] United States a lot and [the] United States [doesn't] want to help us."

About 600 hispanic students attend Lufkin High School, but less than half of them walked out to protest.

Lufkin High School joined other schools around the state and the country where students have walked out in protest. Those demonstrations are getting attention from state leaders.

Representative Jim McReynolds said students always have a right to speak up about local, state, and federal laws. That also includes the right to protest. Some city and county leaders believe walking out of class is the wrong way to voice concerns, but many of them said at least the students are paying attention to political issues.

A much lower key immigration protest formed at Nacogdoches High School Friday morning, but students returned to their school rooms when they discovered disciplinary action would be taken.