As many of us head off to Thanksgiving feasts on Thursday, a growing group of young people in Texas are staging a hunger strike to press Congress to pass the DREAM Act. Meanwhile, Republicans are doing everything they can to stop the bill.
Two weeks have passed since a dozen students at the University of Texas at San Antonio began a hunger strike there. On Tuesday, their protest grew when 40 more students from four other University of Texas campuses joined the strike, reports the Lookout. They say they will not stop until Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has supported the bill in years past, agrees to vote for the bill’s passage once it’s introduced next again next week in Congress.
Last week, Senate Democrats tentatively set Monday, Nov. 29 to bring the DREAM Act to a vote. Whether the vote comes Monday or later in the lame duck, it’s clear that the bill is approaching its day of reckoning.
President Obama, who had been noticeably quiet about DREAM, seems to understand as much. He came out strongly in support of the bill last week after a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is one of a number of Republicans who have traditionally supported the DREAM Act but she refused to vote for the bill in September, saying it would open a path to legalization that was too broad a group of young people.
A spokeswoman for Hutchison’s office said this week that the hunger strikers have not moved her.
"The Senator appreciates their passion but strongly believes that they should pursue safer and more constructive methods of promoting their cause," said the spokesperson.
But the students say they’ve tried other methods and now they’re ratcheting up their fight. Speaking to the San Antonio Express last week, Lucy Martinez, a second year at UT San Antonio who is an undocumented immigrant and a leader of the hunger strike said, "We have tried everything else. We have done lobbying, legislative visits, marches, sit-ins. We are tired of it."
The DREAM Act would open a path to citizenship for close to a million undocumented young people with clean criminal records who serve in the military or complete college. With virtually no hopes of a broader immigration reform bill passing this year, DREAM is the last chance for any immigration legalization bill to pass before the Republicans take control of the House and narrow the Democratic hold on the Senate.
As the DREAM Act hunger strikers notch it up in Texas, Republicans and allied conservative groups are also intensifying their efforts to stop the bill from passing.
Politico reports that GOP staffers have been circulating a white paper to senators and conservative groups that outlines what they consider the social and financial drawbacks of the bill. The research paper is reportedly being distribute by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"In addition to immediately putting an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants (including certain criminal aliens) on a path to citizenship, the DREAM Act would give them access to in-state tuition rates at public universities, federal student loans and federal work-study programs," said the research paper.
The paper also alleges that those who would qualify for legal status under the DREAM Act could also have the right to seek naturalization for family members.
The white paper is wrong in many respects. Fewer than a million people are likely to be made eligible for a green card, and those who will gain access will certainly not be granted status immediately, since they’ll have to go through background checks and, if they have not already done so, need to go to college or serve in the military.
But conservative claims about the way that the DREAM Act might change the country are, in some respects, true. Mainly, that DREAM would pull more people out of the shadows and give hundreds of thousands access to education and other programs. Republicans may well fear that enfranchising undocumented immigrants will alter the country, and the country’s electoral map, and this troubles them. Their anti-DREAM advocacy does little eschew the perception that their concerns are mostly about racial anxieties.
In San Antonio, the hunger strikers know well that they need to secure votes and as Hutchison and the rest celebrate Thanksgiving, the students say they’ll keep striking. The protest, says Martinez, "is similar to what we go through in our everyday lives — starving without a future."