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Starved for a Dream: How a Hunger Strike Affected Immigration Reform

July 14, 2010   View Discussion

Starved for a Dream: How a Hunger Strike Affected Immigration Reform

Beginning on June 1, a group of students embarked on a 10-day hunger strike outside of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Midtown Manhattan office.

The students were calling for Schumer to meet with them regarding the Dream Act, legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant students who meet certain criteria. The bill would also allow those students—many of whom were brought to the US as children, and consider this country their home—to receive financial aid for college or join the military.

Although the protest generated a sizable amount of media attention in New York City and across the country, Schumer chose not to meet with the demonstrators until the tenth and final day of the hunger strike.

According to the students, Schumer said that national immigration leaders, who have long pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, did not support the Dream Act as a stand-alone bill. The senator’s posture and gesticulations during his conversation with the protesters made him appear agitated, as a television camera outside his office observed.

Since the hunger strike, national immigration groups have been split about whether to push for immigration reform or embrace a piecemeal approach to reform, which would mean channeling their efforts toward passing the Dream Act now.

When the hunger strike began, one advocate I spoke with scoffed, saying, “Hunger strikes are only successful if the participants are prepared to die.” At the outset of the protest, however, it became clear that the action not only gave the Dream Act national publicity, but also challenged the overall direction of the immigration reform movement.

Among the “Starved 4 Dream” demonstrators, as they called themselves, was Osman Canales, a Huntington Station resident who is a part-time psychology student at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.

The 21-year-old Canales immigrated to Long Island from El Salvador in 1999, and in that time he’s seen undocumented immigrant friends grow disenchanted with school after realizing that they aren’t eligible for collegiate financial aid, sometimes dropping out of school or allowing their grades to slip.

With that in mind, Canales participated in the first six days of the hunger strike (he had to return to work after that) in the hopes that the action would raise awareness about the Dream Act.

Hear Canales speak about the protest and the legislation:

Image courtesy of NYSYLC via Flickr.



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