SAN ANTONIO - Last week, 16 "Dreamers," people fighting for passage of the DREAM Act, were arrested at Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's office here. In defiance, three of them, already on the 27th day of a fast, vowed to begin an even more stringent hunger campaign - they won't even drink fluids - today.
The strikers received a shot in the arm this morning, when Dolores Huerta of the United Farmworkers met with them in a show of support.
The DREAM Act, currently being debated in Congress, would offer young people brought illegally to the U.S. by undocumented parents a path to citizenship if they go to college or enlist in the military for two years.
Minister Rev. Lorenza Andrade-Smith of the United Methodist Church remains in jail. She and two University of Texas at San Antonio students vowed at 6 p.m. Dec. 5th to extend the fast to include all food and fluids as well. Rev. Andrade-Smith has been threatened with forced feeding.
My Le, an 18-year-old UTSA student, and Julio Lopez, a 26-year-old who attends the same school, decided to begin the full fast until a vote was taken on the DREAM Act in both the House and Senate. The two students are already in the 27th day of a fluids-only fast.
Another hunger striker, Felipe Vargas, said that the United Methodist Church has 50 congregations ready to start "rolling fasts" if the vote for the DREAM Act does not come to pass.
In a "rolling fast," a hunger striker goes without food for one to three days, after which another person takes their place.
Along with the 50 church congregations, 365 individuals have signed up to continue the rolling fasts for the next year to push Congress.
Rev. Andrade-Smith and former city council member Maria Berriozabel16 were among the 16 students and supporters arrested last Monday when they staged a sit-in after Sen. Hutchinson failed to meet with them. They were in jail all night, where they were refused anything to drink. Claudia Sanchez, one of the 16, said that they were victimized and verbally abused.
When the protestors were released, the minister stayed behind, vowing not to leave until the legislation was voted on. Now she will continue on a full fast.
Sanchez choked back her feelings of pain as she explained, "The senator told us to 'find other ways' to fight for this issue.' What more can we do? I have been a state organizer, made calls, set up phone banks, written letters, marched, had vigils, sat in and been arrested. The act was introduced in 2001!"
"In 2007," she continued, "Sen. Hutchison spoke out in approval of the Dream Act. Now she has shut down her offices to us and called Homeland Security to arrest us, which she later denied. She said if we came to her office in Washington, D.C. at 9 a.m. she would see us. Without documents we cannot fly and be there in 10 hours. We offered to meet her anywhere in Texas or by phone but she continues to ignore us. I feel angry and helpless!"
Felipe Vargas, one of the hunger strikers, is an organizer of the Latino Youth Coalition, a group based in Indiana that was founded by undocumented young people. He has been part of the fight for eight years.
Vargas fought for the earlier version of the DREAM Act, which called for requirements of higher education and community - but not military - service. His group is also on a hunger strike, currently in its eighth day. Currently working for his PhD, he is documented but was raised in a "mixed status" family.
The hunger strike tactic goes back centuries, and those who find themselves in helpless situations often employ it. Mahatma Gandhi said, "the hunger strike is the one weapon God has given us in times of helplessness." He himself used this tactic in the fight for India's independence and the rights of the poor "untouchables." In this country, the women fighting for the right to vote carried out hunger strikes in prison, where they were beaten and force-fed.
The hunger strikers and other DREAM Act advocates are urging all Texans to call Sen. Hutchison at 210-340-2885 to ask her to work for the DREAM Act's passage.