San Antonio Express-News
Jan Jarboe Russell, Dec. 4, 2010
At age 69, former City Councilwoman María Berriozábal had nothing personal to gain from joining 15 college students and community activists in a peaceful protest last week at the San Antonio offices of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Her motive wasn’t ambition. Berriozábal doesn’t want a career in politics. It wasn’t financial.
For more than 30 years, she has worked for peace and justice issues in San Antonio. She’s an activist with a reputation for leading from her heart.
So the day after Berriozábal spent the night in a cold jail cell with the much younger other demonstrators who are pressing for passage of the DREAM Act, I showed up at her door in the Beacon Hill neighborhood to ask why she joined the protest.
“I sure didn’t want to go to jail,” Berriozábal said with a long sigh. “But the DREAM Act is a sliver of hope.
“Given the angry anti-immigrant sentiment in the country, all seems lost on the larger issue. But the passage of the DREAM Act would give students, many of whom were brought here as babies by their parents, a path to legalization. It’s worth it to stake a place in the debate — even if we have to go to jail.”
During the past month, Berriozábal reached out to the small number of UTSA students who are on a hunger strike to bring pressure on Congress to pass the DREAM Act. She brought them juice and rallied support. When they asked her to join the protest, she couldn’t say no.
About noon Monday, a group of the protesters, armed with a platter of cookies, entered Hutchison’s office and made their request: Would the senator, who was in Washington, speak with them by phone to explain her position on the legislation?
That doesn’t seem unreasonable, but the answer was no. The majority of protesters, including Berriozábal, are U.S. citizens. Why is it unthinkable for Hutchison to engage her constituents in dialogue?
Hutchison, whose position has shifted from support of a version of the DREAM Act three years ago to opposition to the current bill, tried to distance herself from the situation. She issued a statement saying she didn’t want the protesters arrested.
However, three hours after the building would normally be closed at 5 p.m., the protesters refused to leave.
A spokesman for Port San Antonio, which owns the property on which Hutchison’s office is located, told me the port’s internal security team, acting on complaints from the senator’s office staff and other tenants, asked local police to arrest the protesters on charges of criminal trespassing.
Clearly, there were other possible scenarios. Since Hutchison wouldn’t talk to the protesters, perhaps someone from the city — the mayor or the city manager — might have tried to coax them to leave.
This is only the beginning of these kinds of protests. San Antonio has a major voice in the contentious national dialogue over the DREAM Act. There are not enough jail cells in this city to silence that voice.