One of three on hunger strike for DREAM Act hospitalized

Staff writerJune 28, 2010 

— One of the three young women on a hunger strike in downtown Raleigh protesting immigration laws was hospitalized last night, likely because of heat stroke.

Loida Silva, 22, an illegal immigrant from Peru who came to North Carolina when she was 13 with her family, took ill Sunday night, according to a news release from the N.C. Justice Center.

Silva was released from the hospital early this morning and is resting at home, and stopped her hunger strike, said Viridiana Martinez, one of the other hunger strikers.

Sunday was the 13th day Silva had gone without food, with today marking the two-week mark for the three women -- Silva, Martinez, 23, and Rosario Lopez, 25.

They have been conducting their hunger strike on state land near the N.C. State Archives, and set up tents.

The three are all illegal immigrants who have lived from North Carolina since childhood and graduated from North Carolina high schools, but faced barriers going on to college. All three women, who are part of the N.C. Dream Team, a group formed this spring that is pushing for the passage of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act), freely admit they are living in the country illegally from overstaying travel visas, as Martinez and Silva's families did, or by entering illegally, as Lopez did when she was a young teenager. They say they're angry and frustrated at the barriers in U.S. immigration laws that leave them with slim chances of going to college or getting jobs other than under-the-table work.

They have not eaten since June 14 in hopes of persuading U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan to back federal legislation that would offer a path of legal residency to children living in the country illegally, but who have graduated high school and planning to go on to college or joining the military.

Also on Monday, the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, applauded the hunger strikers efforts and called on Hagan to support the DREAM Act.

“So much of our national debate over immigration reform, has focused on enforcement and punishment and we are losing sight of allowing young people to dream about becoming a doctor, a soldier, a teacher --a contributing citizen,” Barber said in a written statement. “ This act will enable those young people who were brought to our nation by their parents for a better life, to achieve just that.”

Critics of the DREAM Act, which largely has Democratic support in the Senate, say the legislation would encourage more illegal immigration and reward bad behavior by extending residency to illegal immigrants.

Hagan said last week she would not be a co-sponsor of the bill but the women have continued their hunger strike and are hoping to arrange a meeting with Hagan. U.S Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina's Republican Senator, has said he will not back the bill.

Martinez and Lopez are continuing with the hunger strike. An announcement and update on Silva's condition is expected to be made at 8 p.m. tonight.

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sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622