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Student hunger strikers protest illegal status

Times Staff Writer

Three dozen Southern California high school and college students wearing caps and gowns launched a hunger strike Monday to call for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students.

Vowing not to eat and only drink water until Monday, the group launched its campaign at the offices of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) and plan to protest at the offices of representatives in Pasadena, Bakersfield, San Jose and San Francisco.

The protesters -- including graduates and students of UCLA and UC Irvine -- say they were illegally brought into the United States as children by their parents. They held signs with messages such as “I Want to Be a Lawyer” and “Bachelor Degree of Science in Chemistry.”

“These are kids who do community service. They are good students, and yet they do not have much of a future. Why punish the kids for the actions of their parents?” said protester Mario Escobar, a recent UCLA graduate who was accepted to a graduate literature program at Arizona State University. Escobar, who said he fought with Salvadoran guerrillas when he was 10, was an illegal immigrant until he was granted political asylum last year.

The protesters urged district director Raul Luna to get Sanchez to support legislation known as the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students and offer in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrant students.

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Sanchez spokeswoman Paula Negrete said the congresswoman had not supported the Dream Act because she “was hoping for comprehensive immigration reform.” Because the Senate did not act on reform, “it’s too early to know what our next step will be.”

For illegal immigrants such as Lourdes Ponce, 27, legislation legalizing her status is her only hope of putting her education to use. Ponce, who graduated from UCLA last month, will attend a graduate program in education at Harvard University in September.

“The hope that something will change keeps you going,” she said. “It is very frustrating, though. You have a degree and you can’t even use it.”

jennifer.delson@latimes.com


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