Monday, November 3, 2008

Fasting for the Future of Immigrant Rights

Fernando Romero

L OS ANGELES --- On Wednesday, Oct. 15, members of civil rights organizations, activists, students, day laborers and pro-immigrant supporters began what is considered one of the largest hunger strikes in American history at Placita Olvera in advocacy for immigrant rights.

Already into its third week, the hunger strike dubbed "Fast for Our Future," aims to call attention to the oppression, the disrespect of civil rights and unfair treatment of undocumented immigrants by the current Bush administration.

The fast is scheduled to continue for 21 days until after the presidential elections on Wednesday, Nov. 5. A permanent encampment at Placita Olvera has been set up with tents to house the nearly 100 pro-immigrant rights activists and supporters who have fasted intermittently for nearly three weeks.

The fast also dramatizes and coincides with a nationwide effort to gather over 1 million signatures in a pledge/petition of people who are committed to "vote for immigrant rights, fast at least one day, recruit five family and friends to sign the pledge and take action to hold the new administration accountable for our votes," the pledge reads. The pledge will be sent to the winning presidential candidate.

On the first day of the hunger strike, over 70 people came to fast at the encampment on the south side of Placita Olvera, the historic heart of Los Angeles. Fasters have been given on-site necessities such as water and medical provisions for the prolonged hunger strike.

Organizers said that over the course of the hunger strike, people have fasted sporadically, but a core group of a dozen activists have maintained their fast and will continue to do so until Nov. 5.

Organizer Kai Newkirk said, "A lot of the fasters have been coming and going. We’ve had a lot of college students present and some would fast for a couple of days, especially over the weekend and then go back to school on Monday."

The fast is being organized by RISE, a movement of immigrant rights leaders and advocates. The focus of the movement is on non-violent actions to confront the escalation of anti-immigrant raids, unlawful detentions and other repressive measures by the current administration, as well as legislation for a just immigration reform.

The RISE movement was conceived in the non-violent action and tradition of civil rights leader Martin Luther King and farm labor and organizer Cesar Chavez. Organizers and activists of Fast for Our Future assert that the oppression of undocumented immigrants has become the most important civil rights issue of our time. The disrespect for civil rights is reflective of the 60s and actions such as this hunger strike are necessary to shed light on such a vital issue, organizers said.

The repression against undocumented immigrants has become a dreadful fact fueled mainly by xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment. According to the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), detentions and deportations have taken a drastic measure in terms of numbers.

In recent years, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has steadily increased raids and deportations, reaching new records. The Bush’s administration persecution and repression of immigrants has taken an Orwellian characteristic. ICE’s Fugitive Operation Teams have more than quadrupled in the last three years, going from 18 in 2005 to 50 in 2006 and 75 in 2007. Detentions have increased drastically in the last decade going from 5,532 in 1994 to 27,500 in 2007. In the fiscal years of 2007, an estimated 270,000 people were deported, also a new record.

All across the country, ICE agents have routinely breached the civil rigths of individuals. In cities and small towns throughout the U.S., ICE have detained people in their homes, on the streets, on bus stops, and questioned them about their immigration status without a warrant.

Reports show that the encroachment upon these people and further questioning by ICE is based mainly on the person’s skin color and ethnicity. The racial profiling tactic has also resulted in wrongful detentions and deportations of American citizens.

ICE uses raids to send shock waves to immigrant communities and repress rigths. The results are devastating; families are separated, communities are traumatized and losses to the economy are created. According to CHIRLA, some five million children have at least one undocumented parent. Most of these children are U.S. citizens. The intense persecution and oppression of immigrants has torn families apart and separated mothers and fathers from their U.S.-born children.

Endorsers and participants of the hunger strike include Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers; Maria Elena Durazo, leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor; CHIRLA and students from Cal State Long Beach, among others.

Huerta and Durazo joined the hunger strike and fasted for one day during the three-week period of the fast.Both Huerta and Durazo urged voters and immigrant rights advocates to act on behalf of undocumented immigrants.

As of Friday, Oct. 24, 50-60 people remained encamped at Placita Olvera. Some maintained their fast, while others stayed in support of the cause.

Mariana Mendoza, a 56-year old native of Durango, Mexico, is one of whom fasted for a handful days before medical personnel advised her to abandon the fast. An activist, Mendoza said she began her fast a day prior to the start of the Fast for Our Future campaign. She has worked alongside Border Angels and other organizations aimed at helping the immigrant community. She said she joined the fast because she considers the immigrant issue an important socio/political issue which needs a resolution.

"The main goal of the fast is to bring forth a just immigration reform," Mendoza said.

On the third day of her fasting, Mendoza told how she was rushed to the to Beverly Medical Center. Mendoza, a documented U.S. resident, said she remained committed to the cause

"I felt dizzy, I felt like I was floating. I thought I was gonna die," Mendoza said. "I had gone to the bathroom and started to vomit blood and that’s when they took me to the hospital."

Jorge Valles, a Cal State University Northridge student is one of the continuous fasters. He said he wants to continue his fast until the end of the hunger strike because of his strong commitment to the cause for pro-immigration rights. The 27-year old said that the immigration issue has become one of the worst crises in this country.

"The immigration issue is such that it requires a mass action such as this one to elevate the cause and make it prominent on the agenda of politicians," Valles said. "We needed a big action that was emblematic of what we’re fighting for. That we’re fighting for the most simple rights."

To sign the pledge, go to ¶
Photos and Video by Fernando Romero/El Reflejo

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