By Kelsey Whipple
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.”
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.