VERONA, Wis. -- Some Verona Area High School students wanted to sell a T-shirt they said was designed to teach something about a controversial Arizona law and illegal immigration, but found themselves in the middle of a controversy.
Student Katherine Huete said she didn't anticipate the uproar the shirts would spark.
"I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal," said Huete, a junior. "I just thought it was going to be a T-shirt, and if people didn't agree with our issue and our cause, then they could just not buy a T-shirt."
Huete, who is a member of a school club called Latino Nation, said the group was initially approved to sell the T-shirt that said, "Do I look legal?" on the front and, "Oppose SB 1070" on the back. The wording on the shirt made reference to an Arizona bill that is now law, which calls for tougher immigration enforcement in the statement. The measure has prompted a nationwide debate about racial profiling and immigration reform.
The student group had taken 15 orders when members said they were told to stop selling the shirts. Huete said a school official told the group that someone complained about the T-shirt sale.
Administrators, however, apparently suggested that the students sell the shirts outside of school and start a letter-writing campaign. The students have followed that advice, and so far, 150 shirts have been ordered, according to Huete.
Neither the school principal nor the Verona Schools Superintendent wanted to discuss the matter with WISC-TV and denied interview requests on Monday.
The students said that they're concerned about the lack of local discussion about the Arizona law, which technically requires there be some violation of law before a police officer can ask for legal documentation. However, there is a widespread fear that minor violations like a car's burned-out taillight will result in harassment of one group more than another.
"It's basically racial profiling, so they can just go up to someone they think looks illegal and say, 'Where is your documentation' and they would have to present it," Huete said.
The student group wants the school to be aware of issues facing the Hispanic community and said Arizona's new law is an important issue to discuss. Students said that school officials explained that if the district allowed the "Do I Look Legal?" T-shirt sale, it might set a precedent and allow the sale of other, possibly offensive t-shirts.
"They gave us an example and said what if a student comes up and proposes an idea for shirts that say, 'Do I look gay?' 'Do I look like a member of the KKK?,'" said Emmanuel Martinez.
Banning the T-shirt sale at the school is a decision the students said they understand, but they wish the opinion of their peers -- not a parent -- could be weighed when deciding whether to allow the sale or not.