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Hunger Strike Pushes Immigration Groups to Get Behind the DREAM Act
For 10 long days, they starved themselves on the streets of New York, withstanding the humidity, the cold nights, the cops, and disingenuous politicians. Some of the hunger strikers were high school graduates while others were recent college graduates. They sat outside Senator Schumer’s office, asking the Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee to move the DREAM Act as a bill separate from a non-existent comprehensive immigration reform process.
There’s little mention that the hunger strike was initially called because Senator Schumer broke his promise of moving on the DREAM Act as a bill after Memorial Day. His office promised the students from New York that absent a comprehensive immigration reform package, the Democratic legislator would schedule a vote on the legislation that could grant a couple million undocumented youth a pathway to citizenship. But he said he would need the co-sponsorship of some critical legislators, including the Maine Republicans and Senator Brown from Massachusetts to move forward.
With the hunger strike underway, his staff agreed to a meeting in D.C. that included members of the Reform Immigration for America coalition and the DREAM Act leadership from New York so that all sides could come to an agreement on how to move forward.
On Thursday, the students broke into smaller teams — three headed to sit-in at Schumer’s office in Long Island, three more went to his D.C. office for the scheduled meeting, and the remaining four strikers, surrounded by a throng of supporters, broke their fast with a die-in outside the New York office.
The meeting was conducted and deals brokered, but without the voice of undocumented students, who were shut out from the process. When the strikers arrived in D.C. for the meeting, an aide for Schumer revealed it had already taken place and that the management team of the Reform Immigration for America (RI4A) coalition only supported the DREAM Act as a part of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Yet there are many good reasons to support a standalone DREAM Act and in the process help the chances for future comprehensive reform.
After starving for 10 days and hearing that backdoor deals were again made without their input, the students could no longer remain silent. Undocumented youth publicly confronted members of the RI4A coalition, who denied the allegation without supporting a standalone DREAM Act. America’s Voice and the Center for Community Change, two major groups for immigration reform, went on record for the first time, admitting that comprehensive reform had stalled and that it was time to pass the DREAM Act. Along with the National Council of La Raza and the National Immigration Law Center, they are now committed to throwing lobbying resources behind undocumented students. But it might be too little, too late.
Senator Schumer did meet with the hunger strikers for 10 minutes, claiming that he needed 5 more cosponsors to move the legislation. Given that it already has the votes required to move out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and onto the floor, the statement sounds like a ploy to buy more time and do nothing while the window of opportunity closes for any relief this year.