About 40 more students are joining a hunger strike to urge Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to vote for the DREAM Act, one of the student protesters tells The Lookout.
At the University of Texas at San Antonio, about nine students are on their 13th day of a hunger strike to convince Hutchison to vote for the bill, which would allow young immigrants who attend college or join the military to gain legal status.
Starting today, 13 students from the main University of Texas campus at Austin, and about 30 more in UT Dallas, UT Brownsville and UT Pan Am are joining in the strike. A group of students at Texas A&M will do a one-day fast in solidarity but will not continue the hunger strike after that, says Lucy Martinez, a UT San Antonio student leading the protest.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who won his re-election thanks to the overwhelming majority of Latinos who voted for him in Nevada, promised to bring the DREAM Act to a vote on the floor after Thanksgiving.
Martinez, a sophomore at UTSA who was brought into the country illegally when she was 6 years old, tells The Lookout that she is advocating such an extreme protest because nothing else has worked.
"There's 2.1 million of us out there, it's not like just five or 10 people who decide to go on a hunger strike just to do it. Some people tell you to blame your parents for getting you in that situation. But I can't blame my mother, because she brought me here for a better life. You do it for survival. You have to eat, you can't have your kids starving. Naturally they're going to want a better life for you," Martinez said.
Martinez says she has friends who graduated with college and even advanced degrees and ended up working in the United States picking up trash or waiting tables because they could not apply to professional jobs as illegal immigrants. In Texas and in nine other states, residents can attend college at in-state tuition rates regardless of their immigration status. Undocumented students are graduating with college degrees that are in part subsidized by taxpayers,--,and are then often unable to enter the job market.
"A lot of us will be pushed into the economy of waitressing and cleaning hotels or dish-washing," she said.
Martinez, a Mexican-American studies and women's studies major, says America is her home and she wants to be able to work here.
The people who would qualify for a path to citizenship under the DREAM Act "were brought here when they were young. They didn't even know that they were coming here illegally, and now they have gone to school and done all this studying and all-nighters for finals because they know they can contribute to society as well as everyone else," says Zuriel Morales, a UTSA senior who stopped his hunger strike due to a family emergency.
The bill, which has been floating around Congress for 10 years, would allow youths who were brought to the country as children to qualify for legal residency if they join the armed forces or attend college. Opponents of the bill argue that it is amnesty for illegal immigrants and will encourage more illegal immigration. You can read our guide to the DREAM Act's provisions here.
Courtney Sanders, a spokeswoman for Hutchison's office, says the lawmaker still opposes the measure. "The Senator appreciates their passion but strongly believes that they should pursue safer and more constructive methods of promoting their cause," Sanders said in a statement. Hutchison says she fears the bill would help legalize more than "the intended group of children who grew up in the U.S. and attended primary and secondary schools here."
Hutchison supported an earlier version of the bill, which is why the students hope she may yet support this one.
(Fresno State University students protest for the DREAM Act: AP)