Why Are These Women On A Hunger Strike?

Photo: Courtesy of The New York Immigration Coalition.

Late Tuesday night, Francis Madi, 25, and Alexandra Ramos, 24, finished a dinner of pizza and soda and began a hunger strike. Madi and Ramos are both passionate about education. They are also activists fighting to get more rights for DREAMers, young people who immigrated to the United States with their families and are now fighting for more rights. 

The 67 DREAMers and their allies currently hunger striking want New York lawmakers to allow undocumented immigrants to receive state financial aid for college. New York's DREAM Act was dropped from the state's budget on March 24. Without it, students have to rely on small scholarships, wages from multiple low-wage jobs, and attend only part time or take extra time to save between semesters.

Both Madi and Ramos spoke to Refinery29 about what inspired them to join the DREAMer movement, their plans for the future, and how they deal with anti-immigrant protesters.


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Photo: Courtesy of The New York Immigration Coalition.
One of the student hunger strikers.
Francis Madi

When did you and your family come to the US?
“We came in 2003. I was 13 years old. I’m still undocumented, but I was able to finish college, at CUNY, but I had to struggle because I had to work jobs because there were no resources available to me. Now, as an immigration advocate, I work with other DREAMers who are currently trying to go to school and they can’t because there’s no aid available to them. I feel like they are in a situation where they have to choose whether to get an education or feed themselves. That shouldn’t be the case.”

What kind of sacrifices did you have to make when you were putting yourself through college?
“Well, during several years, I had to become a part-time student in order to work two or three jobs at the same time to afford my education, because I was not allowed to get loans or any financial aid from the state.”

What kind of jobs did you work?
“I worked as a waiter, I worked as a babysitter, I worked cleaning apartments, you name it.”
With the young people that you work with now as an advocate, are there any common threads you see?
“One of the things that I usually see is that some of these DREAMers are very hopeless. They think that they don’t have a chance to go to school because of their status. I think it’s very important to remind them that [even though] you’re undocumented you can still go. But, we also need to let the state itself, our government, [know that] they need to take care of our immigrant youth, because in the long run they are going to be able to give back to the state.”

What’s different about New York versus other states where DREAMers are trying to get more recognition? Are things better or worse?
“It’s different in every state. There are DREAMers in other states who have it worse, some of them are not even able to attend college. We are very grateful that in New York state we have something called in-state tuition, which allows undocumented youth to go to college as New York state residents. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to afford education here. I think that New York is a landmark for immigration, and it should set the example for the rest of the nation by passing the New York State DREAM Act, allowing undocumented youth to get an education.”

I saw there were a couple of people who were protesting. What do you have to say to those people?
“I think a dialogue is necessary. They don’t understand the struggles that some of us go through. I’m always open to talk to them, and I always try to [encourage other DREAMers] to reach out and [talk], because the best way to capture this movement is to tell your story so that people can understand what you went through.”

Are you hopeful now?
“I’m very hopeful! I was hopeful until two days ago, when [the DREAM Act] was taken out. And, we hope that it gets back into the budget or, if it doesn’t, at least afterwards in the legislative session. They need to understand that they cannot play politics with our lives.”
Photo: Courtesy of The New York Immigration Coalition.

Alondra Ramos

“I am part of the CUNY DREAMers Coalition, with Monica Sibri, our founder. I am our PR representative. I’m here to pass the DREAM Act, and it’s very disheartening that all of this is happening right now, especially during our midterm season. It only speaks more of us [to be here now]. All of us have midterms today, especially Monica. [We all have midterms] tomorrow, and next week, yet we are here. We’ve been mobilizing ever since we heard that the DREAM Act might not make it. We’ve been organizing meetings, rallies, social media, continuously."

What kind of challenges have you faced as a DREAMer, either when you were younger or now that you’re in school?
“The number one problem for me is paying for tuition. I’m studying to be an architect at City Tech in Brooklyn, and the number one problem is figuring out how to pay every year. In fact, every semester. And then, on top of that, books. Places like the New York Immigration Coalition give me scholarships to keep going.”

Do you have to work any extra jobs, or go part time?
“Yes. I babysit when I have time off of school, so that’s obviously off the books, and it’s the [only] thing that I can do, because I have to go to school. I’m a full-time student, and I have to be there every day.”

Is there anything you hear a lot from friends or other activists? Is there any really common thread?
“[Again], paying for tuition! That’s the only thing we care [about]. We want to get careers; I want to be an architect! And, it’s taken me five to six years to do it, because of the fact that it’s so difficult to pay for tuition — and I’m not the only one. Everybody has the same problem. And then, on top of that, we have to deal with people talking to us like we’re criminals, just because we’re trying to get an education.”

How long have you been going to school?
“I started in fall 2009.”
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You mentioned people who treat you like criminals — I saw there were some protesters here. What would you say to them, if you confronted them?
“It hurts me! Their banner says ‘No DREAM.’ It’s very upsetting, because these are people, adults, who are telling young people like me who are trying to get an education to stop dreaming. I mean, young people like us are the future, not only in this country but in the world, and they’re telling us to stop dreaming. There’s something very wrong with [that].”

If you could talk to other legislators, what would be your message to the people who are endangering the chance to put the DREAM Act into the budget?
"[Some of us just went up to Albany] this weekend, to network and talk to legislators as much as we can. We’d tell them to pass the DREAM Act. Jasmine over there wants to work in criminal justice. Monica wants a career in politics, I believe. I want to be an architect. I’d tell them, ‘Why won’t you let me be an architect? Pass the DREAM Act!'"

Do you have any siblings or other family that might be able to benefit from this?
“Yes. I have a little sister who would definitely benefit from this. She’s still in middle school, and I don’t want her to struggle as much as I have. She’s 12, but she’s [already talking about college]. And, I want to talk about college [with her], but it’s very difficult when the situation’s [like this], when everyone’s trying to make us not go. So, what do I tell her?”

Are you hopeful that the DREAM Act will pass, or things will get better?
“Of course! That’s why we’re here — because we still have hope. We’re not at school taking our midterms, we’re right here, speaking.” 
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