It was more than four years ago now that a group of undocumented students from the New York City area went on a ten day hunger strike in front of Senator Charles Schumer's Third Avenue office.
At issue was Senator Schumer's unwillingness to bring the so-called "Dream Act" out of committee and onto the floor for a debate and vote, something he had the power to do as chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee. Schumer felt that while the Dream Act had some bi-partisan support (Republican Sen. Richard Lugar was among co-sponsors of an early version of the bill), it would be better to wait until there was support for comprehensive immigration reform, something that did not exist then and does not exist now.
I was there on the first day and visited periodically until the last, documenting what I could during the hunger strike. I brought my video camera and a microphone, returning home at night to quickly process the video, uploading it to Blip.tv, which no longer allows independent programming and has since deleted my account there.
These twelve videos, presented as a YouTube playlist, take about two hours to watch in their entirety. Some of this footage was included in an immigration update episode of Nueva York, a CUNY TV production. But here is all of the footage that I processed at the time.
Looking back, the ironies, painful then, are even more painful now. Students beginning college in 2010 would be graduating in the spring of 2015. But only some of the students at the time were in high school. Many were already in college, mostly at City University of New York colleges, though students came from New Jersey, Long Island, and elsewhere, to participate and to support the strikers.
Today, the New York State version of the Dream Act is stalled, mired in politics: the NYS Assembly has passed it, but the Senate failed to pass it earlier this year—by two votes. The NYS bill would allow undocumented youth in good standing and under certain conditions to receive support from the state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), but the prospects for passage are unclear as are the prospects of New York State Democrats, who alternate between scandal and intrigue.
At the federal level, it seems quite uncertain that the Democrats will even retain control of the Senate after President Obama's second midterm election. In 2012, President Obama issued an executive order known as "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," which ends the fear many young people have of being deported to countries that they may have left as infants. While the President may resolve to use an executive order to bypass the stalled and dysfunctional legislative process, one that is only likely to worsen under GOP control in 2015, the President has also deported more people during his term than any other U.S. President.
It's been noted that the Dream Act should not be controversial. Even granting that violations of immigration law are worthy of punishment, it is fundamentally un-American, many say, to punish children for the actions of their parents. According studies by the Congressional Budget Office and NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, it can be said that the effect of the Dream Act would have long-term economic benefits.
During the hunger strike, Chuck Schumer was a speaker at the Queensborough Community College graduation ceremony, briefly sitting next to the SGA president, an undocumented student. Schumer, like most pols, never stays for the whole event.
Update, November 13, 2016:
Other than a near-generation's worth of courageous work on the part of DREAMers, there is no update, but the fear is that the updates to come will be of the tragic, epic variety.