TUSD-immigration issue shows young people have a vital voice  
Arizona Daily Star
Nov. 19, 2007

TUSD-immigration issue shows young people have a vital voice

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/212054

Opinion by Ed Mercurio-Sakwa  

Recent changes in Tucson Unified School District and Tucson Police Department policies regarding the presence of immigration authorities in schools have provoked an active community debate.

The resulting dialogue may very well inspire creative solutions. Unfortunately, some of that debate seems to have given rise to as much anti-youth rhetoric as it has discussion on unauthorized immigration.

The day after students at Catalina Magnet High School peacefully marched in an effort to bring attention to the issues, one local radio talk-show host complained that "punk kids, most of who are probably illegal themselves" were the ones who brought about TUSD's policy change and "we can't allow this."

He went on to say that these students are "a bunch of non-taxpaying kids that don't even vote (and shouldn't influence policy)." His solution: "Let's put the fear in these children!"

Similarly, a recent letter to the editor posed the question, "Why was this policy changed because of these kids?" The writer also wondered why we let these students see that a "mob-rule mentality" works.

Although most high school students are not yet of legal voting age, this does not mean they do not care about issues that impact their community, nor does it mean they do not have the intellect, experience or critical-thinking skills to have a firm understanding of social issues. Many high school students also have jobs and, therefore, do pay taxes.

Peaceful marches and demonstrations are important tools for making your voice heard in our democracy.

For example, the young people of Birmingham, Ala., braved fire hoses and police dogs in 1963 and brought segregation in that city to its knees. Their heroism moved President Kennedy to introduce the bill that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Interestingly, the talk-show host mentioned above coordinated a march and rally as a way to oppose the TUSD policy change.

Here in Tucson, young people are making positive contributions every day and bringing about needed changes in their neighborhoods, and yes, their schools. Unfortunately, our society often overlooks the fact that young people are just as affected by decisions made about social issues as are adults (in some cases, even more so).

More to the point, we tend to ignore the unique perspectives and insights that young people have to share, if only we would listen.

We must remember that age does not define citizenship and that all citizens have the right, and the responsibility, to exercise one of our country's foundational principles: free speech.

Our organization works to support youth in making a positive impact in our community because someone helped us, when we were younger, see that we could make a difference. We feel very fortunate when we have the chance to learn from someone younger than ourselves.

The board of directors and staff at Every Voice in Action hope that all Tucsonans will afford themselves that amazing opportunity.

Write to Mercurio-Sakwa at ed@everyvoicefoundation.org.