On January 1, five South Florida residents stopped eating in a protest action. They are demanding that the Obama administration take measures now to put an end to the deportations that are separating families — at least until Congress can provide more permanent relief by fixing our harsh immigration laws.
The Fast for Our Families is indefinite — the fasters intend to consume only liquids until Obama hears “the voices of American families that have been torn apart by the deportation system,” as they wrote in a January 6 letter to the President.
The fasters include Francisco Agustin, a Guatemalan farmworker who suffers from a job-related disability, and Jenny Aguilar, a Honduran mother who has lived in the U.S. for 18 years and raised her three U.S.-born children here; the immigration agency forces Aguilar to wear a GPS monitoring device on her ankle. “I am fasting because of all the injustice and damage to families that Immigration [enforcement] is causing,” says Aguilar. “I want to be free and have a different life for my children.”
Another faster was previously deported to Mexico for driving without a license; she has two U.S.-born children, ages four and six. Wilfredo Mendoza and Jonathan Fried are U.S. citizens who joined the fast in solidarity with their immigrant friends, family, and community members. On January 6, Guatemalan-born artist Sabastián Caño joined the other fasters at St. Ann’s Catholic Mission in the Miami suburb of Naranja. You can keep up with them on their blog and website, and check out their live feed every day at noon.
No organization called for this action; it wasn’t part of any great mobilization plan. No one told these people to start a fast. They are motivated by a need to keep families together, and by a persistent hope that the system can be changed. Realizing that the fasters are determined to risk their health and even their lives with this action, groups like the Miami Workers Center, Florida Immigrant Coalition, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, and Families for Freedom are doing their best to build support for the fasters and their demands.
Also on January 1, a group of young immigrants from Florida’s Students Working for Equal Rights set off on a four-month long, 1,500-mile “Trail of Dreams” through the southeastern United States to Washington D.C., to push for true community-led immigration reform and in solidarity with the fasters.
A thousand miles away, the fast has been taken up by Jean Montrevil, a New York City immigrant rights activist and father of four who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on December 30 and is facing deportation. His U.S. citizen wife Jani is fighting with the support of the community to free Jean so he can stay here with their children. Immigrants held with Montrevil at York County Prison in Pennsylvania are also participating in the protest.
The resistance is spreading, but it needs your support. Here are some simple things you can do:
SHARE: Check out the links in this post, and help spread the word about these actions to your contacts through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs and listserves.
WRITE: Send your own letter to President Obama. Let him know that you believe in keeping families together and giving everyone a fair deal. You can also contact your senators and your representative in Congress with the same message.
FAST: Fast for a day (or more) in solidarity with the Fast for our Families — and let everyone know why you’re doing it.
ACT: Get inspired to start your own action — a weekly vigil, petition drive, demonstration, teach-in, street theater, civil disobedience — and link it up with the Fast for our Families and the Trail of Dreams.
If you don’t understand why any of this is important, or you feel it has nothing to do with you, just think: you too could be facing deportation today if it were not for the accident of where you happened to be born. As U.S.-born citizens we never earned the right to our privilege. We were just lucky.
As the fasters wrote in their January 6 letter to President Obama: “Please put yourself in our shoes and just imagine for a minute what it would be like to be separated from your beautiful daughters just because you were born in a different latitude.”
Whether or not you realize it, the chances are good that someone you care about is affected by the threat of deportation. So don’t wait to do something until after ICE comes and hauls away your best friend, your neighbor, your boyfriend, your in-laws, your teachers, your classmates, your co-workers.
Instead, reach out your hand to the families and communities who need your help right now to win justice. This is one of those moments in history when we have a real opportunity to make a collective difference in the struggle for a better world. The time is now; 2010 is the year.
Some of you may remember 2006, the year of mass mobilizations for immigrant rights: millions of people marching in the streets, walking out of schools and meat-packing plants. It all started with a modest call for a “Day without an Immigrant” on February 14 — Valentine’s Day — in Philadelphia; to everyone’s surprise, more than two thousand people took part in demonstrations, including hundreds of immigrants who skipped work at chicken-processing plants in southern Delaware. Two months later we found ourselves in the middle of a revolution: on April 10, 2006, some two million people demonstrated in more than 140 towns and cities across the United States, and similar numbers did so again three weeks later on May 1. Then the protests dissipated: after a wave of immigration raids hit in April, many people felt they had already made their point, and they went back to laying low.
Now 2010 is here, and the Fast for Our Families and the Trail of Dreams are the spark that can ignite this year’s movement. It may not take the same form as the 2006 mobilizations, but if we sit around waiting for that moment to return, we’ll miss what’s happening now. So let’s do our part, and help this new movement win some long-awaited justice for immigrants.
Jane Guskin is co-author with David Wilson of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, published in July 2007 by Monthly Review Press. Guskin and Wilson are also co-editors, since 1990, of Weekly News Update on the Americas, a summary of Latin American news. In addition, Guskin edited Immigration News Briefs, a bulletin covering immigration-related news, from 1998 through 2008. In 1997 Guskin and Wilson helped found the Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants, an all-volunteer group mobilizing against workplace raids. From April 2002 to April 2004, they worked to free their colleague and friend, Farouk Abdel-Muhti, from immigration detention. Guskin is co-director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a grassroots foundation supporting nonviolent action for social justice, where she has worked since 1993. She lives in New York City.