Update: Undocumented immigrant activists call off hunger strike, sit-in
Update: After a six-day sit-in and hunger strike, young undocumented immigrants Javier Hernandez and Veronica Gomez left their brief home at the Obama For America headquarters at 5:20 p.m. today. As the National Immigrant Youth Alliance pushes plans to spread their call for an executive order from Obama to the national level, the two activists say they wanted to end their personal efforts to guarantee greater media attention for others.
And because they also expect arrests in the project's future, they wanted to leave the building before that happened -- to them or others. "There are other actions coming up even this week, and we wanted to be out before they happened, to give others a chance to do the same," Hernandez says.
City councilman Paul Lopez visited the protesters before their exit, and their supporters cheered for them as they vacated the building. They made the decision to leave this morning, Hernandez says, "and when we called the people at the headquarters to come and unlock the front door for us, they were really happy. We're both tired."
Yesterday, Senator Irene Aguilar checked their health and warned both not to eat solid foods for the next two days. This means a delay before their dream food -- chicken and black beans (Hernandez) and a hamburger (Gomez). In the meantime, "It feels nice to smell fresh air," Gomez says.
Update, 2:16 p.m. June 11: For almost six days, Veronica Gomez and Javier Hernandez have staged a hunger-strike inside Denver's Obama For America campaign headquarters to urge the President to sign an executive order halting the deportation of undocumented immigrant youth like themselves. This week, they expect a national response to their efforts. Over the weekend, Senator Irene Aguilar visited the protesters to check on their condition, which has its ups and downs.
"Yesterday, it was really hard for us, especially for Javier," Gomez says of their hunger. "We have heartburn. Mentally, we feel like we can do this still, but physically our bodies are telling us differently."
Aguilar, who is also a doctor, recommended five bottles of PediaLyte per day, Gomez says, which means the activists will need to increase their previous intake by four rations daily. Although their hunger strike is taking its toll on their bodies, they say the physical occupation became easier when they organized a friendly discussion with one of the Obama For America campaign employees over the weekend. Since Tuesday, they have occupied the headquarters' front room, and its front door is locked to prohibit others from entering. They have essentially shut down the building.
"They wanted to know when it was going to end and said we were disrupting their campaign," Gomez says, " and we talked about our message and our plans. Since then, It's been a lot better communication, but we're still sticking to our message."
Courtesy of Campaign for an American Dream
Supporters greet the activists from outside the front window.
A religious group, a live band and a troupe of indigenous dancers also visited the Gomez and Hernandez during the weekend to say a prayer and perform in support of the activists. This morning, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance issued a call to action, asking supporters to occupy other Obama headquarters across the country with a similar message.
"We will not accept gridlock as an excuse for our deportations when the President can stop them with an executive order," the statement reads. "We will occupy these offices as long as necessary."
In the meantime, Hernandez and Gomez will hold a press conference today at 5 p.m., and they promise "big news" about their future plans -- and their protest's longevity.
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Update, 11:33 a.m. June 8: For more than sixty hours now, Javier Hernandez and Veronica Gomez have occupied downtown Denver's Obama For America headquarters to push the President to sign an executive order prohibiting the deportation of undocumented youth. They have not eaten during that time, and while they say they are healthy, they admit to feeling noticeably weaker. Two days ago, a nurse visited them to check their health, and Hernandez says she will return tonight.
In the meantime, tensions are rising inside the building, where the two activists protest and sleep behind locked doors while employees continue their campaign work. When Hernandez asked an employee to remove his blanket from the building's back room yesterday, he says he faced "the biggest confrontation we've had yet. We needed our blankets, and he said, 'Well, I'll think about it.' It's been a long three days for everybody, but he almost slammed a door in my face. Everyone's getting a little annoyed, but we're not going to leave."
Hernandez says the two parties try not to interact and remain separate during the day. Yesterday, he received notice that the campaign staff has no intention of asking police to remove the protesters from the building and will continue to respect their protest. (Westword has been unable to reach the campaign to confirm.) So far, police have responded only once; in that case, they watched over the protesters' supporters outside the building.
Over the weekend, Gomez and Hernandez will continue making phone calls to political figures from their cell phones inside the office, and they are currently helping to organize similar protests in other states. "We're not leaving anytime soon," Hernandez insists.
The office has yet to re-open to the public. Occupy Denver's direct action working group released a statement expressing solidarity with the protesters and the Campaign For the American Dream.
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Original post, 12:58 p.m. June 7: Since 5 p.m. Tuesday, 23-year-old Javier Hernandez and 24-year-old Veronica Gomez have sat, sipped and slept inside Denver's Obama For America campaign headquarters to make a point. They have not, however, eaten. In solidarity with the Campaign for an American Dream, they are staging a sit-in and hunger strike to call for President Barack Obama to draft an executive order that would halt the deportation of undocumented young immigrants -- like themselves.
Under the DREAM Act, which is supported by Obama, many young immigrants would be able to gain conditional residency in the United States, which neither Gomez nor Hernandez have. Before entering the building Tuesday night and refusing to leave, they discussed the realities of their protest: Both say they could possibly be deported, and both are prepared for arrest.
"Our community is living in fear of deportation," Hernandez says. "Most people I know can tell you about someone around them who was deported, and that's not okay. We're not asking (Obama) if he stands for Latino immigration, because we know he does; we're asking him to stand up for youth like us."
Gomez and Hernandez watch their supporters from inside the Obama For America headquarters.
Gomez and Hernandez were born in Mexico and have lived in the United States the overwhelming majority of their lives: Hernandez's family moved to California on a visa when he was four, and Gomez's did so three days before her fourth birthday. Both visas expired. Both families stayed. Both protesters eventually found themselves in Colorado.They are the demographic they're working to protect, Gomez says, and "we are Americans, even without the paperwork."
Supporters rally outside the building.
Last night, Westword checked in with the two activists from outside the campaign's downtown headquarters, where they watched their supporters through a glass window. On Tuesday, the Campaign for an American Dream staged a rally at 5 p.m., after which Hernandez and Gomez stayed inside. At 11 p.m., they say Obama organizers noticed their presence and made preparations but have not called the police yet as of this writing.
"They're making a point of being nice," Gomez says, and she appreciates it, "but it's like Obama ignored us, so we came to him directly through his organizers, and then they ignored us. They won't be able to for long."
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Campaign organizers have locked the building, so while the two activists can get out if they wish, they would not be able to return, and they cannot bring in additional supporters. In the meantime, they are monitored by campaign employees set up near them, and they slept on a couch in the front room while most of the employees conducted work in the back. The effort is being livestreamed across the Internet, and the protesters have cameras and a laptop inside along with their Gatorade and Pedialyte.
At6:30 p.m., City Councilman Paul Lopez visited the activists and brought in a nurse, who confirmed both were showing early signs of dehydration, Hernandez says. At the same time, an Obama For America representative handed them a typed statement, their second in two days, saying the campaign felt respect for their efforts but urging that "the only permanent solution" is to change the law by passing the DREAM Act. The note placed emphasis on Republican efforts to halt the act's progress.
"The statement has a typo, and they're not even taking the time to review what they're writing," Hernandez says, pointing out that the word "stop" -- as in what Republicans are trying to do -- was missing an S. "This is a joke, and it's not what we're asking for. We know Obama supports our community, but we want him to take action."
Outside, between forty and fifty supporters shouted chants of "Education not deportation!" and watched over the two strikers, who say they have begun to feel the effects of their skipped meals -- namely, a slump in energy. Much of their support stems around the members of the Campaign For the American Dream, who are walking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to create awareness for the DREAM Act and immigration reform. The trip began on March 10, and a ticker on its website counts down its remaining time -- starting at 86 days.
Although CAD hopes to complete its walk by November 2, the walkers might adjust their deadline after their Denver pit stop. "What we're doing here in Denver, what's happening right now, will be happening all across the country in days," says Jose Sandoval, who, along with Gomez and four others, is currently walking with the group. "We won't disclose any details, but you just watch. You'll see soon."
Already this morning, supporters were again organizing outside the building. For more information, visit the Campaign for American Dream website.
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