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7 arrested after blocking traffic to raise immigration awareness

From Rafael Romo, CNN
  • Seven students stage a sit-in near Georgia State University
  • They are all undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as young children

Atlanta (CNN) -- Seven students were arrested Tuesday after staging a sit-in at an Atlanta intersection, blocking traffic in a symbolic effort to raise awareness about a controversial immigration issue.

Georgina Perez, Viridiana Martinez, Jose Rico, Dayanna Rebolledo, Andrea Rosales, David Ramirez and Maria Marroquin were arrested near Georgia State University.

"We want to show the people that we are undocumented and we're not afraid," Marroquin said.

All are illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children, they said, and were protesting the lack of support for the Dream Act in Congress.

The bill -- which was defeated in December 2010 -- would have given children who have grown up in the United States an opportunity to earn citizenship despite their family's immigration status.

Georgia's public colleges have adopted policies that officials say will prevent illegal immigrants from attending five high-demand schools and from being admitted ahead of legally and academically qualified residents at the rest of the state's public institutions of higher learning.

"That's why I'm here today, because I'm fighting for education for everybody," Perez said. "It should not matter whether you have a nine-digit Social Security number. We're all human beings!"

Last month, President Barack Obama took to a Spanish-language network to address the defeated Dream Act.

"We didn't get it passed this time, but I don't want young people to be giving up because if people in the past had given up, we probably wouldn't have women's rights, we wouldn't have civil rights," Obama said during a Univision-sponsored town hall meeting at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington. "So many changes that we've made had to do with young people being willing to struggle and fight to make sure that their voices are heard."

Opponents of the bill argued that undocumented workers are in violation of U.S. law and represent a strain on already strained social services.

"The bill would reward and encourage the violation of American laws," Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said before the act was defeated. "Americans want Congress to end the lawlessness, but this bill would have us surrender to it. "

According to recent census data, Hspanics now account for nearly one-quarter of children under the age of 18.

But while immigration remains a major contributor to Hispanic population growth, the recent recession and high employment rates may have prompted a tapering off in the rate of foreign-born nationals seeking U.S. residency.

America's overall undocumented immigrant population -- estimated at between 10 million and 11 million people -- may even have declined in recent years, according to William Frey, a demographer at The Brookings Institution.

Accurate numbers, however, are difficult to acquire, he said.