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By Friday, teenagers knew people were noticing them.

Capping a week of scattered rallies, an estimated 500 Salt Lake-area students representing at least a dozen schools staged their loudest, longest march yet, stopping traffic along State Street as they streamed toward the state Capitol to protest an immigration reform proposal they believe may endanger their friends and family.

Friday marked the second day of marathon walking for some students who had started marching at 7:30 a.m. from as far away as West Valley City. Having in some cases skipped breakfast and lunch and walked for hours, students insisted their march was not about getting out of class but about making their voices heard.

"I hope Bush is paying attention, too," said Gabby Alvarez, a seventh-grader at West Valley City's West Lake Junior High.

Students across the nation have taken to the streets for the past week in opposition to legislation that would make illegal immigrants felons and make helping them a federal crime. Bills under consideration in the U.S. Senate would allow undocumented immigrants to stay for limited periods, but require them to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Utah students have embraced the cause with passion and seem to draw inspiration from one another despite their political inexperience and occasional confusion about how best to make their point.

Regardless, the students are making clear their frustration and anger that the country they call home could be, in their words, so unfair.

"When people tell us to go back to our country, we are in our country," said Maria Gonzalez, also a West Lake seventh-grader.

By Friday, the protesters had achieved a sense of solidarity. Some drivers honked their horns in support of marchers carrying Mexican flags. Mexican-themed shirts and bandanas were everywhere.

But not everyone liked what they saw.

Standing in the doorway of Ken Garff Automotive Group office in downtown Salt Lake City, Marianne Rognon said she thought the students were trying to get out of school or get attention.

"I think their cause is ridiculous," the office manager said. "They're protesting because they don't want a law to be a law."

Rognon said she was happy she had finally seen an American flag pass by.

"If you don't want to live in America, go back," she said.

Sending the illegal immigrants back to their countries may not be a good idea, said Charlene Booth, who watched the marchers from her lawn. The first thing that needs to be done is enforcing the borders, she said.

Many of the students were tired by the time they entered the final stretch. Gabby, the West Lake student, and her friends climbed into the back of a Chevrolet truck after walking about half the way. Her knees hurt from having made the trip by foot Thursday, too.

"It was worth it," the teenager said.

Students not involved in this week's marches vary in their opinions of what their peers are accomplishing.

"I haven't really been paying attention to the debate, but I don't think the protesters are making a big difference," said Annamae Holfeltz, a ninth-grader at Salt Lake City's West High School.

Kristina Floor, a ninth-grader at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, takes a different view.

"Undocumented workers do jobs that Americans don't want or are too lazy to do. I think they should be allowed in," she said. "I absolutely would have protested, but my teacher wouldn't let me."


Tribune reporter Sheena McFarland contributed to this story.