North Carolina

Student Walkout for Immigrant Rights

by Jeremy Miller |
April 13, 2009
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Gabi Lemus and Alikhan Salehi
Gabi Lemus and Alikhan Salehi speak at the March 31 rally at UNC-Asheville. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Asheville, NC - Over 150 students, community activists and members of the Coalition for College Access (C4CA) gathered on the campus quad for a walkout and rally, raising the demand “Education for all!” at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA), March 31.

The rally was one of many actions across the state to support education for all people, not just persons born in the U.S. It opposed North Carolina legislation barring undocumented immigrants from attending community colleges. Seven campuses across North Carolina participated in similar coordinated actions around this issue. During the week of March 21, C4CA members on UNCA’s campus tabled, held “Immigration Realities” workshops, and showed the movie, Walkout, about the beginning of the Chicano student movement. The buildup culminated March 31, Caesar Chavez Day, when students met up on the quad for the walkout and rally shouting, “Sí se puede!”

The C4CA formed on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus May 2008 and is held together by a belief that all academically qualified students should have access to higher education. The statewide action came on the heels of the C4CA’s Summit held at UNCA on January 31.

“What we were looking to do is come up with some tangible ideas to fight for college access this time around,” said Alikhan Salehi, a member of C4CA and one of the organizer’s of the Summit. “The immigration issue is very divisive. When you talk to people about the importance of a college education, you can find a common ground with folks regardless of their background. Not allowing people to get an education creates a sub-class of citizens that doesn’t help society. People are forced to be second-class citizens.” The Summit included a “Student Realities Workshop,” a walkout/rally planning crew meeting and filmed testimonials on how college access has affected people present.

The Associated Student Government recently voted up Resolution 19, called “An Act Encouraging the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Community College System to restore Universal College Access.”

“This gives us a foothold, but really helps us in name only,” remarked Salehi, who is also a member of the student government at UNC-Asheville. “It’s a good place to start, but we have a long way to go.”

The walkout and rally were a great success. People came together to rally around the issue of education rights for undocumented immigrants and other oppressed nationalities. Speakers addressed the need for comprehensive immigration reform, accessible education and multinational unity.

Gabi Lemus, co-president of the UNCA campus group HOLA (Hispanic Outreach for Learning and Awareness) had this to say about the rally: “The purpose of having the walkout and the rally was to show our support for college access for all and specifically for community colleges in North Carolina to reopen their doors to undocumented students. We firmly believe that higher education is a basic human right that must not be denied to anyone. Having a rally provided us with the opportunity to express this belief and gave us a chance to attenuate misconceptions about the issue of college access in hopes of gaining even more support from our campus community and peers.”