Dr. Joseph A. Huerta checks the vital signs of the two hunger-striking students settled in the hallway outside U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office Monday night at Port San Antonio. After the blood-pressure cuff comes off, he has each stand on a scale. After 20 days of not eating, the students are shedding pounds fast. “They’re losing too much weight,” says Huerta quietly as he checks over his paperwork. Yasmina Codina, a slim student with a bleached shock of blond hair framing one side of her face, weighs in at just 116 pounds. She says she has lost three pounds in the last 24 hours. Then she rejoins fellow members of Dream Act Now! and a handful of community supporters on the floor, linking arms, ostensibly to block police from entering Hutchison’s office, where six others — including two undocumented UTSA students — have planted themselves since noon. The group refuses to leave until the senator agrees to speak with them about the DREAM Act, a potential pathway to citizenship for people brought to the country illegally who choose either college pursuits or military service.
Hutchison supported the Act in 2007, but complains now that the scope of the legislation has expanded. However, prominent Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada have promised to bring the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act up for a Senate vote before the end of the year and possibly as soon as this week.
After nearly nine hours of the unexpected occupation, Hutchison (on her way to D.C.) still refuses to speak to the students, issuing only intermittent statements encouraging them to eat. Through her staff, she says she doesn’t want arrests. But it’s becoming obvious the patience of the SAPD and Port San Antonio security is wearing thin as an increasing number of squad cars collect around the office building off of General Hudnell Drive.
Against the wall, former San Antonio City Councilmember Maria Antonietta Berriozábal sings quietly in Spanish to a colleague as the younger protestor leans her head tenderly on Berriozábal’s shoulder. Despite her well-known penchant for protest and positions that put her frequently at odds with fellow council members during her time of service, it is the elder’s first act of civil disobedience.
“In this age of globalization, migration is a reality. We have to deal with it,” she tells me after concluding her song. “And what I’m saying is, if this country doesn’t have the sense to deal with immigration in a comprehensive manner — and there’s a shed of light right now — at least we can help the children.”
She continues: “This is just a tiny piece of what we could be doing … people have used immigration and the DREAM Act as a political football. `Hutchison` was supporting it, but when it became like a really high-profile issue of plain racism, she had to take sides. … Essentially, she’s a good woman, and I’m very, very disappointed. I’m willing to put my body here with the students to show that disgust.”
The first verbal warning comes at a quarter after 5 p.m. We’ve had marches, a picket, a “die-in,” and speeches, but it’s after 9 p.m. when the San Antonio Police Department finally take action — arresting the 10 in the hallway first and escorting them quietly to a van beside the building before returning for the six inside Hutchison’s office.
After helping lead the demonstrations, following the students and police downtown where the 16 were booked in on charges of criminal trespassing, and standing vigil for her friends, organizer and pre-law student Claudia Sanchez wrapped up her twentieth day of hunger striking to hit the books. She has papers due in the coming week in both public policy and a course about women in politics. But with the increase of anti-immigrant bills now being pre-filed in the Texas Legislature, she sees a long road ahead for folks like herself, those who resist the politics of immigrant scapegoating and the violence it inevitably inspires.
“They see the media and they see the news and they feel like, ‘Oh, these people are here and they’re hurting our country, they need to leave,’” Sanchez said. “People go to the extreme. They take action that can kill someone.”
Sanchez said that it’s not clear if San Antonio would be represented in the National Day of Action in support of the DREAM Act originally called for November 30. (The group was gathering last night to vote on it.) But she promised that, while they may be tired and cold today, there is plenty more fight left in the students. “We’re not going to let those bills come here, because it’s going to hurt everybody. Not just immigrants, not just Latinos, but it’s going to hurt our communities.”
One of those arrested, Reverend Andrade-Smith of Westlawn United Methodist Church, refused to leave the jail on a public-recognizance bond like the others. Instead, she told Berriozábal and her attorney that she would continue her protest by waiting in jail until the Senate takes up the DREAM Act at last. •