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DREAM Act hunger strikers enter sixth day

dream act mask

Photo by xomiele/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A protester in Arizona.

Since Wednesday, up to 10 supporters of proposed legislation known as the DREAM Act have been camped out on a hunger strike in front of the Westwood office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Sleeping in a tent while consuming nothing but water for days is a painful way to get the attention of lawmakers, but the hunger strikers in Westwood, who include undocumented undergraduate and graduate students, say it’s worth it: The proposed Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act would create a path to citizenship for qualifying 1.5 generation undocumented immigrants who were brought here as minors. Those who qualify must have arrived in the United States before age 16, have been here continuously for five years, and must attend college or join the military. They must also be between 12 and 35 at the time they apply.

By Sunday afternoon, Carlos Amador said he was feeling dizzy. “But there is a core group of us that is going to do as much as is necessary," said the 25-year-old UCLA graduate student, one of seven hunger strikers left. "We want to be able to live freely and work freely and enjoy life here."

Amador said his family arrived here from Mexico on tourist visas when he was 14 and stayed. He worked his way through Cal State Fullerton, but has had to borrow and raise money from friends and family, in addition to his restaurant earnings, to cover graduate school. Unlike U.S. citizen and legal resident college students, he can’t obtain government loans.

The hunger strike is part of a series of DREAM Act-related civil disobedience actions lately, which have included students from around the country converging on Washington, D.C. last week for several events, among them a sit-in where nearly two dozen were arrested. The hunger strikers in Westwood, the youngest of them 18, said they were targeting Feinstein, a supporter of the DREAM act, because she has the power to push the legislation out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and toward a vote. A spokesman for Feinstein didn’t return calls Friday afternoon.

Versions of the DREAM Act have come and gone for almost a decade. The proposed legislation’s critics have argued that it rewards illegal behavior; other critics have included foes of minority military recruiting, who fear that young people for whom college is not a viable choice might feel compelled to join the military out of fear they could otherwise be deported.