A couple hundred students walked out of schools and across south Minneapolis on Wednesday, stopping at Martin Luther King Jr. Park to protest U.S. immigration policies.

"I hope this is just the first step," a female Southwest High School student said to the gathered crowd on the snow-covered grass at the park on Nicollet Avenue S. between 40th and 41st streets.

Like others who held the bullhorn, she spoke of fear that her parents would be deported and of her desire for solidarity and compassion across races.

The group lasted about an hour at the park, before a large faction headed north to Lake Street behind a banner that read in Spanish and English: "Stop the deportations" and "Not my family." Some students were underdressed for the gray 20-degree day, but they stood firm, huddling with friends.

The protest resembled a friendly after-school gathering of friends. Student organizers had set out on a picnic table a bounty of donated food that included warm soups, coffee, hot chocolate, chips, tortas, tamales, popcorn and pizza.

Many said they've seen family members deported. They say they hear stories of federal officials knocking unannounced on doors, coming into homes and tossing people to the ground. Some protesters carried signs while a few chanted, "Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha," telling the president to listen, that their community is in the fight.

A national operation earlier this month to round up recently arrived families and minors from Central America with deportation orders has drawn a major outcry from immigrant advocates and members of the Latino community. Authorities made no arrests in Minnesota and neighboring states, but advocates say news of the raids has spread anxiety in local immigrant communities.

After hitting record highs early in the Obama administration, deportations locally and nationally have dropped in recent years. Immigration authorities in St. Paul, who oversee Minnesota and four other states, deported more than 1,730 immigrants in the past fiscal year, down from 4,750 three years ago. About 80 percent of those deported had a criminal conviction, which made them a priority for deportation under Obama administration policies.

Still, many of the students talked about living in fear of deportation.

A 14-year-old student at Hiawatha Collegiate High School who is undocumented, choked up as she spoke. "Honestly it's scary to wake up every morning knowing that something can happen, that someone can take my family away," she said.

Eleydi Rios and Denise Sanchez, 17-year-old Apple Valley High School seniors, came to support immigrants. Both are U.S. citizens but say they've seen others struggle and live in fear of deportation.

Rios' sister was deported a few years ago to Mexico, but the sister's two young daughters remain with Rios and her mother. Sanchez said her uncle was deported and she worries about friends' parents being deported and their children left behind.

Staff writer Mila Koumpilova contributed to this report.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

Twitter: @rochelleolson