As of Saturday, June 19, three women are on their fifth day of a hunger strike in downtown Raleigh. They want to pressure Senator Kay Hagan to co-sponsor an immigration reform bill currently up for debate in Washington D.C.
Viridiana Martinez, 23, Rosario Lopez, 25, and Loida Silva, 22, all live in central North Carolina. They are all undocumented immigrants who came as children to the United States with their parents during the 1990’s.
The trio want Hagan to sign onto the DREAM Act, also know as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which creates a 6-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants under 35 as long as they go to college or the military, get good grades and stay out of trouble.
Viridiana Martinez, Rosario Lopez and Loida Silva on the fifth day of their hunger strike.
In a written statement, Hagan said the DREAM Act “should be considered in the context of comprehensive immigration reform,” but did not say directly whether or not she supports the legislation.
The three young women have a small encampment at the corner of Wilmington and Lane streets, and have a permit to stay there until July 1. But they say the hunger strike is “indefinite.” In the meantime, they’re surviving by drinking Gatorade, Pedialite and water.
They have three tents, a canopy, a portable toilet and signs in a small park on the intersection in the midst of state government office buildings and across the street from the state legislature.
Volunteers and supporters take turns spending time at the site and greeting passersby 24 hours a day.
Hunger striker Viridiana Martinez, talking during the midday heat on Saturday, said the first two days were bad, but they’re feeling better. “I was throwing up and getting chills,” she said, “But things got better on the third day.”
Rosario Lopez, who came as a 13-year old from Mexico City in 1998, echoed Martinez’s sentiment. She said the first two days were the worst, “but I don’t feel hungry that much now.” She said she is starting to feel weak and gets tired easily. All three said they have been sleeping more.
“We’re willing to do anything for a change,” Lopez, who has an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said. “We’re not allowed to contribute to our community,” she added.
“We’re also not acknowledged,” Martinez said.
“We were brought here, this is our home, and we’re not leaving without a fight—a fair and peaceful fight,” Martinez, who came to North Carolina when she was 7 from Monterrey, Mexico, said.
Striker Loida Silva, who has lived in North Carolina for 9 years, spoke with Senator Hagan Friday while the senator was leaving an event in Chapel Hill.
Silva said she didn’t think Hagan understood the issues. But, Silva said, “We believe in her. We believe she will be able to put aside politics and we believe she will do the right thing.”
On Hagan’s part, she released a statement recently on immigration reform: “I believe the DREAM Act should be considered in the context of comprehensive immigration reform. I strongly believe that the United States must take the necessary steps to fix the way we handle illegal immigration, and I am committed to achieving practical, bipartisan, comprehensive reform that will protect taxpayers and address the problem of illegal immigration at its core.”
Loida Silva, 22, came to North Carolina from Peru 9 years ago.
The three said that they are not very worried about making their undocumented immigration status public. In fact, it’s an important part of their statement.
Martinez said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers “could easily start targeting us or our families.”
“We’re not criminals,” Lopez said, “And if they come and take us it will expose the broken immigration system.”
Lopez, who gave birth to a daughter before she finished high school, said, “If you really put your heart into, you can accomplish anything in the United States. I was told I couldn’t graduate high school and I did. I was told I couldn’t graduate college and I did.”
Martinez said she wants their effort “to tell the story of undocumented youth.” She continued, “Our living conditions are unbearable and our futures are uncertain. What are we going to do, wait for someone to do something for us?”
Lopez said they had gone to Washington, DC, lobbied, made phone calls and written letters to Hagan. “We’re putting so much at risk telling people we’re undocumented, but we want to speak out and tell people who we are.”
“God has given us this courage,” Martinez added.
As the hot Raleigh day wore on, Martinez looked at her cell phone and saw a Facebook post from her friend. She read it out loud: “He’s cooking carne asada this afternoon!” eliciting groans and laughs from her two fellow strikers.