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Emotional rally ends DREAM Act hunger strike

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Students who participated in DREAM Act hunger strike at closing rally in Westwood

A two-week hunger strike by supporters of the DREAM Act ended tonight in Westwood, where a crowd of more than 100 gathered outside the Los Angeles office of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Educators, clergy, parents, and classmates of the undergraduate and graduate college students who participated in the strike attended an emotional candlelight rally in which strikers and supporters shared their stories. One young man who assisted the strikers with security said he'd become involved in immigration-reform efforts after his parents were deported two years ago; a woman whose son participated in the strike cried when she spoke of another son who was deported.

Jeff Kim, an undocumented graduate student who arrived from South Korea when he was 10, was one of several hunger strikers who spoke.

"We just want our rights, to be educated and to contribute to this country," said Kim, 26, who arrived with his family on a temporary visa but was unable to adjust his status. "We are not criminals."

The strike began July 21 with 10 students camping outside the senator's office, and ended with five. Their goal was 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 if they attend college or join the military.

Neidi Dominguez, a recent UC Santa Cruz graduate, didn't join the strike but participated in a caravan last month to Washington, D.C., where students engaged in civil disobedience. She said that a comment made by Feinstein last week saying she supported "incremental change" on the DREAM Act was encouraging enough for the strikers to call it quits after two weeks.

Earlier today, Feinstein spokesman Gil Duran said via e-mail that the senator had not made any new statements supporting the bill in light of the strike, simply that the students were “finally acknowledging that she has been a co-sponsor of the bill since 2002.”