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Student activists call on officials to boost resources for immigrants

Spurred by a recent federal crackdown on unauthorized immigrants and inspired by fellow student activists in the Black Lives Matter movement, a group of high school students gathered Saturday to draw up a list of demands calling on city and state officials to increase support for the city's growing immigrant population.

The students want education officials to offer more English as a second language classes — including at top high schools — and to hire more Spanish-speaking staff as well as offer translators at school events.

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About 30 students and some teachers attended the Saturday session, which was organized in part by Somos, a Latino student group at Baltimore City College.

"We've seen so many problems going on. We want to help out," said Jinette Minaya, 16, a junior at Baltimore City College and a member of Somos.

The group started about a year ago at City as a traditional student club, organizing cultural events at the school and doing volunteer work, but members said they are becoming more politically active and hoping to broaden its reach.

That shift was prompted in part by concerns that arose when Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities said they would be stepping up deportations of families who had recently entered the country illegally. They were also motivated by the example set by a sit-in that classmates organized last spring after the death of Freddie Gray.

"It showed we as young people can make an event," Jinette said.

For Saturday's workshop, Somos members reached out to students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Patterson High School and Digital Harbor. In addition to Somos, the workshop was hosted by Poly's El Club de la Cultura Hispana, CASA de Maryland, the immigrant advocacy group, and City Bloc, which helped organize the spring sit-in.

"Everybody has a struggle and even if it doesn't directly impact you, you should still want to help," said City Bloc member Legacy Forte, 16, a junior at City.

Even one alumnus attended the event, held in the Patterson Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Public Library, where students also prepared posters with information about immigrants' legal rights when interacting with immigration authorities.

"We want to be supportive of activists in the Latino community," said Michael Lovo, 18, who graduated from Poly last year and now attends Towson University.

Latinos are more than 40 percent of the city's foreign-born population, a share that has been rising in recent years, according census estimates. Teachers estimated there are about 40 Latino students at City and about 100 at Poly.

As the population grows, students said, the school system needs to do more to boost Latino curricular offerings, provide translated materials, as well as advice for students who are unauthorized residents.

"We saw issues at our school," said Yasmin Machuca, 17, a junior at Baltimore City College, pointing out the lack of English as a second language classes at City and Poly, which she said limits access by immigrants to two of the city's best schools, regardless of their academic ability.

"They're fit for City or Poly … but just because of the language barrier, they can't [attend]," she said.

Edwin Perez, a teacher at Baltimore City College, said staff members are aware of the needs.

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"Now that the demand is there, hopefully people who are in charge will meet the demand," he said.

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