Supporters of DREAM Act Begin Hunger Strike Outside Senator Charles Schumer’s Office
June 2, 2010 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.