More than 300 high schoolers in Houston walked out during their lunch break on Wednesday to protest the arrest of their classmate by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Dennis Rivera, a Honduran immigrant and senior at Austin High School, was placed in immigration detention after he got into a fight at school, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The news of Rivera’s detention caused a stir on Twitter, because of the fear that this would set a precedent for federal immigration officials to come into schools and detain students. Actress Alyssa Milano and others used the hashtag #FreeDennis to show their support for Rivera’s release.
Hispanic students at the school are now worried about what Rivera’s arrest could mean for them. "We don't want anything like this to happen to anyone else," Andrea Gonzalez said. Gonzalez is a 15-year-old sophomore who helped organize the protest. "Today it could be Dennis, tomorrow it could be us."
Authorities are claiming that the 19-year-old was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge received for pushing a girl and striking her on the head. The incident reportedly began with a verbal fight and took place across the street from Austin High School. According to Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman for ICE, Border Patrol became aware of Rivera in March 2013 when he first entered the country illegally.
An online petition calling for Rivera’s release claims he was “repeatedly bullied" because of his status, and that the fight was an act of self defense. The petition also said that Rivera was accepted into Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Lamar University, with plans to study computer science.
His soccer teammates are among those who decided to protest on behalf of Rivera during their lunch break and were reportedly surprised to find out that Rivera was involved in a fight, since he is known to be a shy student.
One teammate, Jose Ayala, was especially worried since he himself is an undocumented immigrant currently protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. DACA recipients are in danger of having their minor protections stripped, after Donald Trump rescinded the Obama-era policy last fall. "This could be my situation," Ayala said. "We understand mistakes can drag us down, but we learn from them, get back up and move on stronger. It's time for him to come back and finish his senior year strong."