Almost three weeks after beginning a hunger strike to press Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to support the DREAM Act, 16 protesters were arrested on criminal trespassing charges on Monday night. The protesters included a number of undocumented students from the University of Texas as well as a former San Antonio city council member and a Methodist minister. All but one, the minister, have been released. Now, DREAM Act organizers say the strikes are starting in other cities.
The San Antonio hunger strike, which, according to organizers, grew to close to 50 people last week, targets Sen. Hutchison, a Republican who once supported the DREAM Act but has more recently refused to support the bill. The protesters say they will not stop their strike until the Senator agrees to vote in favor of DREAM. The minister, Lorenza Andrade Smith, says she'll remain in jail until the DREAM Act passes.
Lucy Martinez, a second year undocumented student at UT San Antonio who is among seven protesters who've refused to eat for 22 days, told ColorLines, "We want to let Sen. Hutchison know that we want her to recognize our sacrifice and hard work. That we want to contribute to this country. We don't have the privilege of waiting. Our future is on the line."
In response to the strikers, Hutchison has said she would not support DREAM Act as it was then proposed because, according to her spokesperson, it would legalize more than "the intended group of children who grew up in the U.S. and attended primary and secondary schools here." What she really meant is unclear, but it appears the senator and other conservatives may have found some success in limiting the bill's scope.
Julianne Hing reported on Wednesday that the newest version of the DREAM Act introduced Tuesday night by Sen. Harry Reid, "appears to be one of the harshest [versions of the bill yet], strictly limiting how many and what kinds of undocumented youth will be able to benefit from the bill."
Martinez, who says that she feels weak and tired since beginning her hunger strike, is adamant that whatever form the DREAM Act bill takes, it should not expand mechanisms that lead to deportation. "We are not going to support just anything," says Martinez. "We are not going to criminalize our parents or ourselves with the DREAM Act. We want [Hutchison] to have a dialogue with [Sens. Richard] Durban and [Harry] Reid. But, if something crazy comes out of it, we're not going to support it, because it's only going to harm us."
The hunger strikers' arrests came after a number protesters entered the building and attempted to sit in at the doors of Hutchison's office in hopes of meeting with the Senator. On Monday evening the San Antonio police ordered them to leave. When they refused, they were arrested and jailed, according to the San Antonio Express.
With a vote on the DREAM Act likely to occur in D.C. this week or next, advocates are intensifying their efforts, pursuing all possible supporters in Congress. DREAM is widely seen as the last chance to pass an immigration legalization bill before the Republicans take control of the House in January.
The hunger strikers, who according to several DREAM Act organizers have been joined by strikers in four other states, know that the stakes are high. Martinez says some of the strikers have had health complications including heart problems and issues with diabetes. And, she says, "One of us who was incarcerated almost fainted in the jail and she was not given water."
"We have not had any organ failure but by this time, at 22 days, that does start to happen," said Martinez.
But she says, "I am willing to go as far as far as it has to go--to risk arrest or deportation."