Hunger Strikes Used by Immigration Reform Advocates

It remains to be seen what impact these hunger strikes will have. Some notable hunger strikers remain etched in our memory like India's Gandhi, farm worker champion Cesar Chavez, and Northern Ireland's Bobby Sands.

"Hunger strikes have a really very spotty, complicated history of success," said Mark Sawyer, professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics.

They work best, he said, when the striker is suffering from an injustice and the resolution sought is simple and comprehensible, such as a prisoner wanting freedom.

Using the gambit to try to achieve something as complicated as legislation, here on the many-headed beast of immigration reform, may prove difficult, he said.

The young men and women now entering their seventh day camped out in front of Schumer's office, consuming only water and vitamins, said they plan to continue until the legislation known as the DREAM Act moves forward in Congress. Though three of the original 10 strikers have left, two new protesters joined over the weekend, and the group insists they are committed.

Alvarez, whose mother called her at the encampment on Third Avenue last week with the news that her Columbia University diploma had arrived in the mail, said that at this point, she doesn't have anything to lose. No architecture firm will hire her until she is documented.

"I'm taking the risk because I just can't sit around anymore and watch how my dream is being killed," she said. "Even though I've done everything right; I got good grades in high school, I finished college, I was a good student, I behaved. I did everything right and now this dream can't continue because I don't have documents."

If deported, she said, "I would leave with my chin up high and a smile on my face. I did as much as I could."

Sen. Schumer Targeted By Hunger Strikers

If passed, the Dream Act would offer a path to legal status to an estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank. It would apply only to those who arrived in the country illegally while under the age of 16 during a specified time frame, and would require that they achieve a college degree or serve two years in the military, as well as remain clear of a criminal record.

DREAM Act supporters contend that if the legislation is extracted from the comprehensive immigration legislation, it has a better chance of passage, and that passage could happen sooner. But much of the immigration reform movement disagrees and the factions have a history of clashing over strategy.

For Schumer's part, his staff has held multiple meetings with the activists and has offered the protesters the use of bathrooms.

Schumer co-sponsored the DREAM Act, and chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship. His office says he is working to advance and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which would include the DREAM Act.

"Sen. Schumer recognizes the frustration of these students and their desire to see our broken immigration system fixed as soon as possible," said Mike Morey, the senator's spokesman, in a prepared statement.

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