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DREAM Act hunger strike continues, entering third week

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Photo by DreamActivist/Flickr (Creative Commons)

DREAM Act supporters

Almost two weeks after they started, several students on a hunger strike in support of legislation known as the DREAM Act remain camped out in front of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office on Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood.

Five hunger strikers remain, only three of them original ones. "Obviously they have lost a few pounds, but they are hanging in there," said Vanessa Castillo, a graduate student and U.S. citizen acting as a spokesperson for the strikers, a combination of undergraduate and graduate students who have been sleeping in a tent just outside the office.

Castillo said their goal is to convince Feinstein, already a supporter of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, to champion the legislation as a separate bill and push it toward a vote. The DREAM 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 be between 12 and 35 at the time they apply.

In a previously issued statement, Feinstein's office called the hunger strike "a misguided and counter productive is unclear why they are targeting our offices, because they know she is supportive of the bill. These protesters need to think of the bigger picture and target their energy more productively, perhaps by focusing on leaders who oppose immigration reform."

"We are their allies," Feinstein spokesman Gil Duran said today in a phone interview.

Versions of the DREAM Act have come and gone for almost a decade. Its critics have argued that it rewards illegal behavior; other critics have included those opposed to minority military recruiting, who fear that young people might feel compelled to join the military so as to not be deported.

The Los Angeles hunger strike began after students from around the country converged on Washington, D.C. last month for several events related to the DREAM Act, among them a sit-in where nearly two dozen were arrested.