BERKELEY (CBS News) — No matter how you feel about the immigration debate in America, there is no debate about how significantly current policies can affect some of the youngest members of society.

For example, take the story of a group of fourth graders who are rallying not for a cause, but for a friend.

There has been an empty seat for months now in the fourth grade classroom at Jefferson Elementary in Berkeley. Ten-year-old Rodrigo Guzman isn’t there.

When asked how long they have known Rodrigo, his classmates Aminah Diaby and Kaiya Daniels enthusiastically claim, “since kindergarten!”

Aminah and Kaiya said they miss him.

“He’s really smart,” Kaiya said. “And he has a lot of friends.”

Rodrigo was just 16 months old when family came to the U.S. on a tourist visa. To him, this has always been home.

“He came into the fourth grade already reading at a fifth grade level,” said his teacher, Barbara Wenger.

Wenger was first to learn that Rodrigo and his family had been deported. Their visas had expired. They are barred from the U.S. for at least five years.

“Sharing news with a 10-year-old that their classmate couldn’t be here because of where he was born, it doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Aminah said she doesn’t understand what happened.

Rodrigo’s absence was just as baffling for twins Kyle and Scott Kuwahara.

“I really wasn’t familiar with, like, immigration laws and Congresspeople and stuff like that,” Scott said.

“It shouldn’t take five years to apply for a new visa. Because that’s a long time to be away from your friends and family,” Kyle added.

That’s when Kyle and Scott decided to do something about it.

What they did was take the case of their friend to the Berkeley City Council, to the streets and to the White House.

“Dear President Obama,” Kyle read from his letter. “Please bring Rodrigo home.”

The students’ activism shouldn’t be surprising perhaps in a class where they’ve been studying civil rights leaders.

“The message is you don’t just stand back and watch. You try to do something about it,” their teacher Barbara Wenger said.

“They all stood up for their rights and stood up for what they believed in, so now we’re trying to stand up for Rodrigo’s rights,” Kaiya said.

This summer, several of the fourth graders hope to visit Washington to personally lobby for Rodrigo’s return.

Scott has a message for his classmate still in Mexico:

“You shouldn’t give up hope because your friends are here to support you,” he said.

As America debates immigration reform, there is a class full of fourth graders ready to testify that no matter how Rodrigo Guzman got here, he belongs here.

(© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


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