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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

3-Day Fast Is Latest Call to Overhaul Immigration

With the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as a backdrop, more than 40 people, including several New York politicians and clergy members, gathered in Battery Park on Wednesday to start a three-day fast to press for a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

The protest is the latest in a wave of demonstrations by immigrants and their advocates in the New York region and around the country that have included rallies, vigils, marches and acts of civil disobedience. Most of them have been meant to express impatience with the Obama administration and Congress for postponing long-discussed change to the nation’s immigration system.

In three separate protests over the past three weeks, a total of 109 activists have been arrested for blocking traffic in front of Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, where the government’s immigration agencies have their New York offices.

“What you’re seeing is definitely a pivot in the way that immigrants are expressing their anger,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella advocacy group. “Immigrants feel they have to express their anger and their demand for justice in more dramatic ways than in the past.”

After a morning news conference in Battery Park, many of the fasters took a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Most intend to spend the remainder of the fast at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. Among them was Adela Valdez**, 39, an illegal immigrant from Mexico and a community activist, who said that fasting was just one of many tools that demonstrators have to employ to compel lawmakers to take action.

“We have to use all our resources,” she said.

On May 10, Oswaldo Cabrera, an Ecuadorean immigrant, began a hunger strike at a Lutheran church in East Harlem to push for changes to the immigration system and to protest a new law in Arizona that gives police departments broad power to make immigration checks. Mr. Cabrera has since shifted his fast to a church in Fairview, N.J., and he plans to travel to Washington at the end of the month to continue his campaign.

On Tuesday, a group of 10 young illegal immigrants, several of them students, began a hunger strike on the sidewalk outside the offices of Senator Charles E. Schumer in Midtown Manhattan. They are pressing Congress to pass the Dream Act, a bill that would offer legal status to illegal immigrant students who were brought to the United States as children. And they are focusing their effort on Mr. Schumer, who as chairman of a Senate subcommittee on immigration wields large influence over the passage of such legislation.

On Wednesday afternoon, the protesters were sitting on blankets near the intersection of 47th Street and Third Avenue. Asked how long they intended to continue their strike, Gabriel Martinez, 27, who recently graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and was serving as the group’s spokesman, said, “As long as we can hold.”

Division among lawmakers in Washington has stymied the Dream Act, with some arguing that it should be handled as part of more comprehensive legislation and others saying that it can be dealt with separately.

While the calls for an immigration overhaul have been building for several years, they have accelerated since the passage of the Arizona law in April. Related demonstrations have included an increasing number of illegal immigrants who have shown the willingness to risk arrest and deportation by presenting themselves publicly.

On May 17, five immigrants held a sit-in at the Tucson offices of Senator John McCain, calling on him to support the Dream Act. Four were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges; three of them were in the country illegally and were expected to face deportation proceedings. Other civil disobedience has taken place in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington.

On Tuesday, in the third protest in a weekly series, 56 people were arrested in front of Federal Plaza after they linked arms, stepped into the middle of Broadway and brought traffic to a halt.

Though none of those arrested were illegal immigrants, organizers said, some demonstrators who were on the sidewalk supporting the action wore red-and-white buttons that read, “I’m an illegal immigrant.”

**Member of Make the Road New York