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Students protest politics of division

Dark political clouds loomed over the 100 or so college students who marched to the downtown Square on a sunny Friday morning.

Students from the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University walked out of classes at 11 a.m. and headed downtown. The two groups of students chanted, “When immigrants rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” as they met near the southeast corner of the historic Courthouse on the Square.

The event was billed as a protest of state Senate Bill 4, the so-called “anti-sanctuary city” bill, which also affects universities. A federal judge blocked its enforcement before it went into effect this week.

Another issue also loomed large Friday: the potential for President Donald Trump to kill a program that has protected  many students, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. One of the first speakers, Lilyan Prado Carrillo, told the crowd that she came to the U.S. from Guatemala when she was 4 years old. 

She was a child, so she didn’t know that when she came to Denton her parents didn’t have the documents they needed to be there, she said. She was raised in Denton, went to Denton public schools and attended college in Denton. She thanked the students for the activism that continues to hold politicians accountable.

“This is not a fight for immigrants, but for all of us who are different,” Carrillo said.

State officials are defending SB 4, which they say requires local police to cooperate with federal authorities in order to keep dangerous criminals out of Texas. The law gives local police, including university officers, the authority to ask people their immigration status, a controversial provision that may not withstand the constitutional challenge it now faces. 

Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, vowed to fight for the new law.

“Texas has the sovereign authority and responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens,” Paxton said in a prepared statement this week. “We’re confident SB 4 will ultimately be upheld as constitutional and lawful.”

Paxton also is leading the charge to have the DACA protections for children of immigrants withdrawn. During his presidency, Barack Obama wrote an executive order that protected children of immigrants from deportation. Many young people signed up for protection under the DACA program.

Paxton and Republican attorneys general from several other states have threatened to sue President Donald Trump if he does not revoke DACA. The White House has said the president plans make an announcement about the program Tuesday.

But on Friday, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery withdrew his support for the lawsuit.  And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also asked the president not to scrap the program, saying that Congress should fix the problem, since it affects too many people. 

Organizers urged students to wear red to the rally, but a number of speakers wore other clothes to show association with other advocacy groups, including the Carnalismo Brown Berets, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and Indivisible Denton.

Instead of a red shirt, one of the final speakers Friday wore a black T-shirt many students wore to the rally, emblazoned with "Stop the Deportations." Mario, who would not give his last name, told the crowd that their work was not over.

“There are a lot of ways that they are attacking us,” Mario said. “All the things we have fought for, they are coming after the basic rights we have.

“This is a battle between courage and fear,” he added. “We are on the right side of history.”

Before dispersing, organizers reminded the crowd to plan on attending the next Denton City Council meeting, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Activists previously asked that the city of Denton join with Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in opposing SB 4 in court. The city has not yet responded to the request.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.