Protesters began a hunger strike outside Senator Charles Schumer's Manhattan office in support of the DREAM Act. Image by Alison Bowen.
Beyond Borders, Dispatches, United States

Supporters of DREAM Act Begin Hunger Strike Outside Senator Charles Schumer’s Office

June 2, 2010 By Alison Bowen
Protesters began a hunger strike outside Senator Charles Schumer's Manhattan office in support of the DREAM Act. Image by Alison Bowen.

Protesters began a hunger strike outside Senator Charles Schumer's Manhattan office in support of the DREAM Act. Image by Alison Bowen.

NEW YORK — Sitting around bags with sleeping mats, gallons of water but no food, 15 people began a hunger strike Tuesday outside Senator Charles Schumer’s Manhattan office.

The strikers, from the New York State Youth Leadership Council, said they hoped sitting on the sidewalk would push Schumer to advance the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would make it easier for undocumented youth to attend college and attain citizenship.

Two people from the senator’s office came out to talk to the protesters, affirming the senator’s commitment to DREAM Act and immigration reform.

“We’re listening to them, and everything we see, we bring back to the senator,” said Victor Pichardo, a community outreach coordinator in Schumer’s office who walked out of the office to speak with strikers.

Kiran Savage, who spoke with Pichardo and another staffer, said it wasn’t enough. The group postponed the hunger strike a week, she said, waiting for Schumer’s office to call by Thursday with a plan for the DREAM Act. They didn’t call, she said.

Sitting outside the office, she said, has been “the only way we can have a conversation with them.”

Marisol Ramos walked 300 miles to D.C. recently to meet with Schumer. The trip, which took three weeks, ended with them speaking to a staffer who promised the senator was working on the legislation.

“For us that’s not enough,” she said.

About a dozen people are striking indefinitely, with more joining when they can. They plan to sleep on the sidewalk and brought an extra tarp in case it rains.

Participants were both legal and undocumented, ranging from high school students frustrated by their education options to those worrying the opportunity might have already passed them by.

“I’ve seen my life go by,” Jose Luis said. At 30, he said, he’s seen chances to be a junior high guidance counselor glide by while his college options were limited as an undocumented immigrant. Instead, he studied air conditioning and heating, where he now works, but he’s hopeful he’ll attend college someday, no matter his age.

“My dream doesn’t stop here,” he said.

The strikers, who are tweeting about their experiences, wore t-shirts reading “Starved 4 Dream” and sat next to a handmade clock of the days they’ve been striking, set at 0-0. They chanted things like “Education not Deportation” toward cars passing on Third Avenue.

“Schumer really has lied to us,” said Aura Mateus, who arrived from Colombia when she was five. Now, she’s a high school senior who will take next year off before college. She hopes a legal family member will sponsor her in the meantime, allowing her to begin the path not only to citizenship, but also toward being eligible for federal financial aid, something not available to most undocumented immigrants.

In the meantime, she said she’d teach salsa and belly dancing classes. She hopes to attend Smith College or Sarah Lawrence College.

The group prepared by gradually cutting out foods last week, she said, starting with meat, grains, and just eating fruits and vegetables over the weekend.  They’re drinking plenty of water, including tablespoons of salt to stabilize their bodies.

Gloria D’Amato, a Queens resident who was passing by on her way to the swimming pool, stopped to ask about the protest and wish them luck.

“I feel sorry for them,” she said, adding that she thought American citizens were fortunate to be born in the country. She knows many undocumented immigrants, she said, and they’re hard workers in spite of difficult circumstances. “I give them credit,” she said. “They want to help themselves.”

About Alison Bowen

Alison is a Missouri native and New York City freelance writer who has wanted to cover Latin America since studying Spanish in Central America. After moving to Brooklyn, her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Daily News, the Manhattan Times and Women’s eNews. She earned a master’s degree in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at New York University. Her thesis focused on immigration policies after September 11, including counterterrorism measures, and their effects on the daily lives of immigrants in New York City.


mary Howland says:

Bet there are bags of tortillas and refried beans tucked away in the group somewhere. This is riduculous. Hunger strike in this countrywill get you what?
Sorry I.m not impressed.The government doesn:t care if we starve are these kids real?

Kathleen says:

The sense of entitlement aggressively and consistently displayed by illegal aliens only serves to further alienate American citizens. They demand rights and services which they are not entitled to nor deserve.

We owe them one thing: an order of deportation. Their home countries can educate them. We have far too many deserving American citizens in need of educational assistance. Charity begins at home.

Jaun says:

What part of undocumented or better put illegal don’t they understand? It is not the American people that should pay for thier education. As far as thier families , Why should the Americam people pay for them once they get here and sacrifice our SSI for the one who never contribute? God will strike down any attemp at this illegal mess. ILLEGAL (meaning not law abiding)

The overwhelming majority of these protesters are undocumented through no fault of their own; this is the only country they’ve ever known. Deportation witll not send them “home”; it will effectively turn them into people without a country. And they are NOT asking for money; they are asking for the documentation everyone says they should have in the first place. They’re probably contributing to the economy now through paying taxes for benefits they may never receive.

I’m always amazed at the comments section of these things. I’m not sure which is worse: the igonrance or the cruelty. If this country is destroyed, it won’t be destroyed by the people who come here; it will be destroyed by the people who were born here and are living under the delusion that this makes them more deserving than any other human being on the planet.

Shame on the commenters who preceded this post (and, I’m sure, on many of the ones that will follow it).

Ludwig says:

they or their parents choose to cross the border, thus they choose to play by our rules. too many kids in our country need assistance for us to be making exceptions for them. they are just overcrowding our schools anyway. stephen, why don’t you educate all of them?

Mara Louise says:

Ludwig, if the young people’s parents decided to cross the boarder, they did not, in fact, choose this country and it’s rules for themselves. They aren’t asking for an exception, they’re asking for the documentation that they, likely as minors, never received. Our schools wouldn’t be over crowded if we had more of them. More schools=more building projects, more teaching jobs, more janitorial jobs. All of those added together=stimulated economy. Please don’t think you’re better than everyone else just because you were born here.

Dream Act-ivist says:

Excuse me, those who think its only undocumented people fighting for this..seriously. Educate yourself first! There are people who sat on an Airplane and came to this country through proper legal routes and then got screwed by the American Immigration system. Why let immigrants in if you are not willing to help them?? You think America can survive without these “undocumented” workers? Go tell the American citizens to work in Gas Stations and clean toilets at the local mall.

Kids are brought here by their parents who want to give them a better life. This is not a better life. Immigrants are not asking for money or your SSI. They are asking for legal papers so they can work or go to college and graduate to pay taxes for the American Govt. They want to be part of your country and help you make it better. And sorry to say, I know many American citizens who get full financial aid to college and have all the opportunities and all they know is drugs and weed and alcohol and sex. Many of the undocumented immigrant kids want a better life. Why stop them? Don’t forget, everyone in America is an immigrant. Your ancestors were undocumented at one point too.

[…] Ten strikers continued throughout the week, sleeping on the sidewalk outside his office to pressure him into advancing the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. […]

Gilbert HYDE says:

the most precious asset of a country is its people. It is incumbent upon the people of Mexico to lift up their country (which is horsmere) that they have developed since its existance. If the people of Mexico who is Mexico and made Mexico what it is. Now they want make America into the image of Mexico. A vile
rotten image of corruption. A nation who can not do for its self. A nation who

brenda says:


Janet Liu says:

These people are mostly 20%+ over normal body weight. This hunger strike is a terrific idea. It will allow them to get back to normal bodyweight prior to their return to their home countries and resumption of earning their own living through manual labor. They have been fattened up at the expense of the US taxpayers, but the Big Chump has about run out of patience now with all the freeloaders.

DREAM act = reward for the parents who dragged these little dreamsters over the border.

No one wants that reward. We can’t afford ’em. The DREAM is over–time to go back. But don’t go back as a fatty–do the hunger strike and go back lean and ready to work.

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