Hunger Strike and Arrests For Immigration Reform

NEW YORK – Osman Canales’ last meal was a glass of juice and a cookie on Long Island before getting on a train to Manhattan yesterday morning. It’s going to be water and Pedialyte for as long as his body can take it, or until Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) moves the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act forward in Congress.

Canales, 21, a Salvadoran immigrant, is one of about a dozen students from the New York State Youth Leadership Council who began a hunger strike June 1 outside Schumer’s office on Third Avenue in New York City.

“We want him to take action,” Canales told FI2W, while preparing to take his place on the sidewalk with his fellow hunger strikers. “We’ve waited so long; so many dreams have died.”

The DREAM Act would would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, by either pursuing higher education or entering the armed services.

Osman Canales, one of the youth on hunger strike - Photo: Cristina DC Pastor

Osman Canales, one of the youth on hunger strike. (Photo: Cristina DC Pastor)

Sen. Schumer is a co-sponsor of the legislation, but he’s been much more active in pushing his own, broader, blueprint for “comprehensive immigration reform.” The youth on hunger strike want the senator to move the DREAM Act forward in the Senate as a standalone bill, a form in which it might face less opposition.

Organizers said at least 1.4 million students across the country would benefit from the DREAM Act if passed by Congress.  They were brought to the U.S. as children and many were unaware of their legal status until it was time for them to go to college. As undocumented immigrants, the students are not eligible for financial aid, said Canales, a sophomore in psychology at Suffolk County Community College.

Like Canales, NYU grad Jennifer Carino, 22, said she’s psychologically and physically prepared for the a hunger strike. She is hoping the protest will force Sen. Schumer to act.

“We’ve spent way too many years talking about it,” she said. “It’s time to move the bill, and we urge Senator Schumer to provide the leadership.”

Brooklyn-born Carino said her Mexican immigrant parents are supportive of her decision to go on hunger strike, but also reminded her that “after this, it’s time to go get a job.”

Jennifer Carino, on hunger strike outside of Sen. Schumer's office - Photo: Cristina DC Pastor

Jennifer Carino, on hunger strike outside of Sen. Schumer’s office. (Photo: Cristina DC Pastor)

The strikers said they are prepared for the long haul with their act of non-violent protest. They have tents ready for the elements – a thunderstorm or the scorching heat.  Carino said they have a support group of volunteer nurses who will come daily to check on their physical condition. Before embarking on the hunger strike, the young people went through a four-day period of preparation, avoiding meats and carbohydrates leading up to their prolonged fast. They said they would subsist on water and Pedialyte, a solution given to infants to stabilize the stomach and prevent dehydration.

“As long as it takes,” said Canales. “I don’t have a deadline.”

Sen. Schumer’s office sent community affairs liaison Victor Pichardo to speak with the students, but the office has not yet responded to a request for comment from FI2W.

At 3 am this morning, NYPD officers forced the students to move off the sidewalk outside of Sen. Schumer’s office on Third Avenue. Canales slept in the office of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, and planned to return to Sen. Schumer’s office today to continue the hunger strike.

On the same day, 56 demonstrators engaging in an act of civil disobedience for the cause of immigration reform were arrested near City Hall and charged with civil infraction and blocking traffic. The protesters, who were later released, were part of a protest denouncing the Arizona immigration law and the government’s “indifference” to immigration reform.

The arrest brings to 109 the number of people who have been rounded up in three weeks of civil disobedience actions led by the New York Immigration Coalition.

The rally outside Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan was attended by a diverse group of borough leaders, clergy, community activists, and unions.

“Immigration is one of our issues,” Steven Choi, Executive Director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action. “What we’re seeing is a lack of political leadership.” MinKwon is Korean for “civil rights,” said Choi.

“We are here for our civil rights. One in five Korean Americans is undocumented,” he added.

Immigration Reform Rally in Federal Plaza - Photo: Cristina DC Pastor

Immigration Reform Rally in Federal Plaza. (Photo: Cristina DC Pastor)

Bishop Orlando Finlayter, a Caribbean clergyman, called immigration the civil rights issue of the 21st century. He urged President Obama and Congress to enact a “just and humane” immigration law.

Reacting to Arizona’s SB 1070, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said he could not believe he would live to see a day when people could be arrested via racial profiling. “I find that very scary,” he told the crowd.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said he presides over a borough where 50 percent of households speak a language other than English at home, and 38 percent of the population is foreign-born. He said the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and denounced SB 1070 as a “misguided bill.”

A small group of counter protesters were gathered on one side of the stage. A man who would not give his name said he and his group “represent the silent majority.” They were waiving placards that read: “Illegal is illegal,” “Employers must verify status,” and “Hispanic against illegal aliens.”

AboutCristina DC Pastor
Cristina DC Pastor, a former Fi2W Business and Economics Reporting fellow, is the publisher and editor of The FilAm ( Her book, “Scratch the News: Filipino Americans in Our Midst” (Inkwater, 2005), is a celebration of ordinary citizens at the center of extraordinary stories. She is a graduate of The New School.