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Students protest immigration bill

The parade was large and loud as it marched through the Marshall Student Center (MSC), gathering a standing audience as it went.

Hundreds of students, many with signs and drums, ended their march Tuesday outside the Patel Center in a “We the People Movement” to protest the state Legislature’s proposed Senate Bill (SB) 136, which is similar to Arizona’s controversial immigration law enacted last year.

SB 136, which would allow law enforcement officials to conduct checks for citizenship on individuals suspected of being undocumented immigrants, explicitly states that “race, color or national origin” may not be used as factors for suspecting individuals of being undocumented, but the bill gives law enforcement officials free reign on conducted searches if “reasonable suspicion” of residency exists.

Though the bill has not been passed, protesters were intent on voicing their displeasure with its principles.

They also rallied in support of SB 318, which would allow undocumented youths graduating from Florida public schools to pay in-state tuition to attend any state university if they meet certain requirements.

Echoes of chants like, “‘Ain’t no power like the power of people, ‘cause the power of people don’t stop, say what?” were shouted through megaphones as the sign-carrying crowd waited for movement organizers Franz Villate and Joseph Anastasio to deliver a letter of their requests to President Judy Genshaft and ask her to step out in front of the crowd.

American flags were waved and protesters chanted the Pledge of Allegiance as they waited for Genshaft to emerge from the fourth floor balcony. However, Villate and Anastasio announced they had delivered the letter, but not to Genshaft, who was in Washington, D.C. “(The administration) will be held accountable,” Villate, a graduate student studying secondary social sciences, said from the balcony. “The letter has been delivered.”

Genshaft’s absence wasn’t enough to dishearten the protesters, who had been organizing since November 2010 when Villate said Florida Sen. Mike Bennett first filed SB 136.

From the Patel Center, the group continued its march to the on-campus office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, located at the USF Research Park on Spectrum Boulevard.

Protesters were greeted there by Rubio intern Josh Schulnick, a junior majoring in international studies and Spanish who is the sole occupant of the office.

Schulnick, who started working at Rubio’s campus office in January and hasn’t seen the senator in Tampa since, said the constituents’ concerns would be passed along to the senator. The office is used primarily for hearing constituent concerns.

Student body President Cesar Hernandez said the bill would allow for prejudices in law if it is passed.

“What does an illegal immigrant look like?” he said. “I am the student body president of the University of South Florida, and I look like an illegal immigrant.” The bill was introduced to the floor of the state Senate on Tuesday.

Anastasio, a graduate student studying government and international affairs, said he believes racial profiling would be inevitable if the bill is passed.

“Of course, it’s not going to say (anything) about racial profiling because that would be racist (and) discriminatory,” he said. “They can’t do that. But what it talks about is ‘reasonable suspicion.’ What does an illegal person look like? That’s where the racial profiling comes.

“I’m not going to say what that profile is, but people know what it is. It’s a person who works in the fields, (or) it’s a person who works construction. That’s what (people) think an illegal person looks like and those are the people we have to protect.”

Yulliana Sanchez, a graduate student studying Latin American, Caribbean and Latino studies and an organizer of the event, said the bill is a violation of human dignity through the language it uses when referring to people.

“When people use the term ‘illegal,’ it’s dehumanizing to people,” she said. “Stealing is illegal, running a red light is illegal, crossing the border is illegal, but a person is not illegal. A person is a person no matter where you are. You might not have the right documents to be where you are, but that doesn’t make you as a person illegal. And an ‘alien’ is something that’s out of this planet.”

Sanchez said she hoped the march would educate the campus on the gravity of the issue.

“This is not a partisan issue,” she said. “I think it’s a human issue. Even with our small group here at USF, we have different parties represented. This is not about who’s legal and who’s not. This is about humanity and human rights and human dignity.”

However, not all who encountered the protesters shared their beliefs.

“There are laws for a reason,” said Sarah Patrick, a junior majoring in public relations and one of the onlookers in the MSC. “I believe in stricter immigration laws, but I think (the protest) is good because you see what others are thinking.”

Anastasio said it was necessary for USF students to carry out the movement.

“We are Americans,” he said. “Most of us are American citizens. Some of us may not be American citizens, but we still have the same love for this country. As college students who are here at the University of South Florida, we all have an opportunity, and that opportunity is to achieve success, to get intellectual advancement (and) to move on into the world.

“And it is our obligation as students to impact the community so that others can have the same opportunities we have.”