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 losing weight fast. “They’re losing too much weight,” says Huerta quietly as he checks over his paperwork. A slim student with a bleached shock of blond hair framing one side of her face weighs in at just 116 pounds, declaring she has lost three pounds in the last 24 hours. The students drink only water and juice to sustain themselves. The members of Dream Act Now! and their supporters have linked arms, ostensibly to block police from entering Hutchison’s office, where six others — including two undocumented UTSA students — have planted themselves since noon, refusing to leave until the senator agrees to speak with them about the DREAM Act, a pathway to citizenship first proposed in Congress a decade ago. Hutchison supported the Act in 2007, but complains now that the scope of the legislation has expanded since then. 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. The Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for people brought to the country illegally that choose either college pursuits or military service. Hutchison staunchly refuses to speak to the students, only issuing intermittent press statements encouraging them to eat. She reportedly doesn’t want arrests, yet refuses to bow to demands for a conversation. Meanwhile, the patience of the SAPD and Port San Antonio officials apparently is wearing thin as an increasing number of squad cars collect around the office building off of General Hudnell Drive.
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 to protest and positions that put her frequently at odds with fellow councilmembers 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,” Berriozábal 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 — that 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 back off. She was supporting it, but when it became like a really high-profile issue of plain racism, she had to take sides. And that is very, very unfortunate. 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 to a van beside the building before returning for the students inside Hutchison’s office. By this time a group of about 40 have gathered around all the building’s exits, where supporters collect video snippets with their cell phones and take photos between chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” Before the students are carting off to Frio Street to be processed into jail, the Dr. Huerta advises those that are fasting to keep relaxed, stay calm, and get plenty of sleep. Of course, tonight such health advice is out the window. In the ongoing fight for citizenship, the night is just one to survive with hopes of recuperating later as the campaign continues. “They say they’re going to do 30 days or as long as it takes,” Huerta says. As of this morning, all but three of the 15 arrested have been released by SAPD, according to Dream Act Now! spokesperson William Wise
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