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DREAM Act Hunger Strike Nears Critical 30-Day Stage, Spreads Across Nation

Jeff Biggers

Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith arrested at Nov. 30th sit-in in San Antonio, Texas.

On the heels of a new Congressional Budget Office report
that the DREAM Act would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the
next decade and public support by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano,
seven university students in San Antonio prepare themselves to enter
their 28th day of a debilitating hunger strike that has now spread
across the country.

The Texas students are weary, reaching a critical 30-day stage in a
liquid-only fast that health experts warn could lead to organ failure,
but hardly alone. A doctor now monitors their health daily. One
student striker has diabetes.

In the tradition of famed labor leader Cesar Chavez, whose own
"spiritual fasts" won workplace safety concessions for their parents'
generation, the students' hunger strike has been joined by United Farm
Worker cofounder Dolores Huerta and League of United Latin American
Citizens executive director Brent Wilkes, along with thousands of students across the country.

Declaring that they don't plan to end their hunger strike until the
Senate and House pass the DREAM Act, including a recent streamlined
version unveiled by US Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) that would require minors
who arrived as undocumented immigrants to pass a 10-year waiting period,
the strikers were joined last week by Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith, who
remains locked up at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. The
United Methodist minister was arrested on Nov. 30th, along with 15 other
activists, at a nonviolent sit-in at the San Antonio office of US Sen.
Kay Hutchison (R-TX), a one-time supporter of the Dream Act in 2007.

Along with two of the student strikers, Rev. Andrade Smith is on a
complete fast--refusing water, as well as food. Supporters of the
Methodist pastor and the students conduct daily vigils in front of the
detention center.

"We're completely exhausted," said Felipe Vargas, a PhD student in
History, Philosophy and Education Policy at Indiana University, who was
born and raised in San Antonio, "but our spirit is stronger than ever.
When we launched this hunger strike, we had no idea we would receive
such wide support."

Along with other DREAM Act supporters and organizations, Vargas said the students are part of a national campaign called United We Dream.

Calling on Sen. Hutchison to champion the Act during the lame duck
session, the students were joined in their sit-in last week by legendary
San Antonio activist and former city councilwoman Maria Berriozábal.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro met
with some of the strikers today, and declared his public support for
the DREAM Act, though he called on the students to end their strike.

Noting that all of his siblings have earned doctorates at American
universities, Vargas pointed to a broad range of supporters--from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to conservatives like former House leader Newt Gingrich--who have called for similar reforms.

Earlier this fall, a Rasmussen poll noted that a majority of Americans supported the DREAM Act.

"I do support the DREAM Act; I think it is a very reasonable and
sensible way to assist young people to have an opportunity for
citizenship," said Bishop James E. Dorff, San Antonio Episcopal Area of
The United Methodist Church. On Rev. Andrade Smith's participation,
Dorff released this statement:

"As her bishop, I wanted to support her personally,
affirm her statement of conscience, affirm her Christian witness," he
said. "I do not condone nor recommend breaking the law and she is aware
of that, but I appreciate the depth, compassion and sense of commitment
she has to seeking some kind of just immigration reform."

Pointing out the limited scope of the DREAM Act, which would only
apply to minors under the age of 30 who are able to complete a 2-year
university degree or military service, San Antonio defense attorney
Maria Salazar declared: "If we can't pass the DREAM Act at this point,
then I think we are looking at very little success for positive
imigration reform laws." Salazar is defending a number of the protestors arrested at the sit-in
at Hutchison's office last week. Salazar added: "We have to pass this
now at least to convey to the new leadership that immigration reform is
something we must act on now."

While the Congressional battle
over the DREAM Act remains uncertain, the students--and their growing
supporters across the nation--vow they will continue their strike until
legislation makes it way through Congress.

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