UC Berkeley ends hunger strike over immigration

Michael Macor / The Chronicle UC Berkeley students Ismael Armendariz (left) and Nestor Espinoza pass the time playing chess as they join 22 other hunger strikers camped out in front of California Hall on the UC Berkeley campus Thursday, demanding that UC President Mark Yudof and UC chancellors denounce the Arizona legislation which gives law enforcement broad powers to detain people they suspect of being in the country illegally. Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/05/13/BACU1DDV28.DTL&tsp=1#ixzz0npTNf61Z

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

BERKELEY — With the blessings of ceremonial dancers, a group of UC Berkeley students ended a 10-day hunger strike Wednesday while negotiators met with the chancellor over the status of illegal immigrants and student demonstrators.

Soon afterward, students and Chancellor Robert Birgenau announced some modest agreements on undocumented university employees and student discipline.

About 20 hunger strikers, mostly students, had camped out in front of the school’s administration building since May 3. Their initial protest target was Arizona’s new immigration law, which requires police to stop and question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

Birgenau quickly complied with the protesters’ first demand – to denounce the law. But he balked at their proposals to declare the campus a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, rehire laid-off janitors and drop disciplinary charges against students who occupied or vandalized buildings last fall to protest rising fees.

Campus officials had met with strikers four times, without results. Birgenau agreed to an in-person meeting Wednesday if the students would call off the strike. They agreed out of concern for their health, said Horacio Corona, a senior and organizer.

The demonstration ended in a display of Berkeley multiculturalism.

One protester blessed his cohorts’ corn cobs, for their connection to Mother Earth. Four dancers dressed as cornstalks, including one of the strikers, twirled and gestured ceremonially to a percussion beat.

Fifteen strikers then munched on the corn, to the cheers of about 150 supporters. A 16th student, Alejandro Lara-Briseño, who was too weak to stand but told the crowd he would continue fasting until he visits a sister in Arizona next Thursday and gets her approval.

Shortly afterward, negotiators, including another striker, emerged from a two-hour meeting with Birgenau and his aides and said the chancellor had addressed most of their demands.

“We emerged with a much broader understanding of their concerns and a strong commitment to work together,” said Claire Holmes, a university spokeswoman.

Specifically, she said Birgenau agreed that a task force previously established to review concerns of students in the United States illegally would broaden its scope to include campus employees.

While the school could not legally promise not to cooperate with federal immigration officials, Holmes said, the chancellor emphasized that looking into the immigration status of students and workers is “not a priority for our Police Department.”

Birgenau also promised to review UC Berkeley’s code of conduct, the basis for disciplinary charges against dozens of students in last year’s protests, and to consider resolving the charges by requiring community service rather than suspensions or other punishments.

A community service agreement is “what we were aiming for,” said Marco Amaral, a spokesman for the protesters.

Meanwhile, final exams loom, irrespective of protests and even hunger strikes. A third-year history major, who declined to give his name, said he felt light-headed from lack of food but would turn in a 15-page paper today while studying for finals.

“We’re still students,” he said. “We can multitask.”

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