Monday, February 1, 2010

From Miami to DC: Stop Separating Immigrants from the US Citizens That Love Them

Early last week, I had the honor of driving with ten community members from Miami to Washington, D.C. to participate in a rally. Representatives of WeCount!, the Miami Workers Center, and South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice – including three fasters from the Fast for Our Families – joined many other representatives of the faith community, workers rights organizations, and immigrants rights advocates to call on the Obama Administration to the end of the separation of immigrants from their U.S. citizen family members.

On January 26th, just before noon, we reached the Department of Homeland Security office, where other concerned activists and organizations had already started to gather. From where we stood, we could look to the Northwest and see the Washington Monument, and look to the Northeast to see the Capitol building.

We started to march, carrying signs proclaiming “Reform Not Raids”, “Stop Separating Families”, and “Immigrants Work for America’s Prosperity: Justice for All Workers." For the good of all of our families, we marched in front of the Department of Homeland Security.

Soon we gathered together for a few words from active leaders of the immigrant rights movement. The day of the protest was significant – January 26th was the day before President Obama’s State of the Union address. As one speaker stated, we were there to protest “one year of inaction, one year of broken promises, one year of an administration that has failed to protect immigrant families and the US citizens that love them.”

Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition introduced the three fasters present from the Fast for Our Families - Wilfredo Mendoza, Sebastian Cano, and Francisco Agustin. Maria stated, “We are here because the state of the Union is broken when immigrant families, immigrant workers, and U.S. workers are not respected. We have said, ‘Enough is enough’.”

After the program, twenty brave individuals put their bodies on the line to stress the need for change. Invoking the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Cesar Chavez, and many more, these determined activists lined up on the cross walk and proceeded to sit down, blocking the traffic on 12th Street and then Independence Avenue. Stated a Reverend that was part of this action of civil disobedience, “It’s time we must bring about justice and equality for all, or there does not exist peace or justice or equality for any of us.”

Following the rally, my friends from South Florida and I walked from D Street past the Washington Monument, and over to the White House. We had been trying to see the White House all day – that symbol of power that has control of whether immigrants and the U.S. citizens who love them are allowed to stay together. We were determined to see the White House before we left for Miami, because there is still hope that this situation that faces immigrants can change for the better.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Breaking Our Fast and Continuing Our Struggle

Today marks the 17th day since we started the Fast for Our Families, entering St. Ann’s Catholic Mission in Naranja, Florida. On New Year’s Day we vowed to only consume liquids until President Obama heard the v oice of all families being torn apart by this broken immigration system. We made this promise as humble people in a community devastated by raids, detentions, and deportations. We made this promise as people forced to endure the daily phone calls about someone’s family being deported. We have been deported ourselves, and survived the desert just to see our children again. We have seen the government telling us that our families don’t deserve to be together. We have been detained in jails, and detention centers, and humiliated into wearing electronic shackles. We have been treated as if we are not human.

On New Year’s Day we decided that our government must recognize our humanity. We did this in the only way we know how, by our own personal sacrifice. We sacrificed our
bodies for the sake of our families and millions like us around the country. We did this so that the government would respond to the cries of our children that need their parents, of our husbands that need their wives, and of our mothers that need their children. Three of us were sent to the hospital. We understood the risks, and still we persevered.

Our community saw our sacrifice and responded with their support. People from all over Florida would visit us, pray with us, and bring us blankets and water. People from all over the country - New Hampshire, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, California, Wisconsin, and Kansas - responded to our sacrifice by fasting in solidarity, sometimes for one day, sometimes for ten days. This solidarity and support was the only food we had for more that two weeks. We dedicated some of that sacrifice to our brothers and sisters in Haiti, and to their families here.

Unfortunately, our sacrifice did not bring a just response from our President or his Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. In part, this was surely because he was focused on helping our Haitian brothers and sisters, but that focus did not stop ICE from detaining more people or separating more families this week. A parishioner of St. Ann’s, our home for 17 days, was detained just days ago. Our Secretary of Homeland Security was less than a mile away from St. Ann’s yesterday. Despite a request from one of Miami’s most respected Haitian leaders, Marleine Bastien, she declined to reach out to us.

On this day, January 17, we have decided to end our fast. After watching the suffering of our Haitian brothers and sisters, and seeing the determination of the Department of Homeland Security to ignore the voices of immigrant families fighting to stay together, we must continue our struggle in a different way, but the Fast for Our Families will not end. We are asking others to continue our struggle and to take on our sacrifice in the name of the millions of immigrant families like ours. In the coming weeks, we will take our struggle directly to Washington, DC. On January 27, those of us that can travel freely will be at the steps of the Department of Homeland Security. We are asking for your continued commitment and sacrifice to keep all of our families together and our communities strong, from Naranja to New York and from the US to Haiti.

The Longest Block - Napolitano in Miami

When is a block more than just a block?

Secretary Napolitano came to Miami today (Saturday). She and Vice-President Biden visited with Haitian leaders in Little Haiti, as they should, and then traveled to Homestead Air Force Base. Napolitano passed within one block of the Fast for Our Families at St Ann's Mission. One block!

From our understanding, per a call this evening, the trip was planned by the Vice-President's people, which is why the Fast wasn't on the agenda. Even so and even though the trip surrounded Haiti and much-needed relief efforts, the Fast for Our Families began almost two weeks before Haiti's devastating earthquake. Letters were sent and calls were made by all of us without any response from Secretary Napolitano.

While we recognize and appreciate that TPS has been issued for Haitians, it is only what should have been done years ago. In the wake of the devastation in Haiti, it is the moral thing to do. And while we also appreciate the aid being sent to Haiti by the US government, I'm currently sitting at the church watching a group of people prepare a sign asking for donations for medicine and water. This is a poor church and yet they care and want to help Haiti. Why should our government do anything less?

Yet our government is doing less for the families in this church, for the families in this community. That needs to change.


Friday, January 15, 2010

“They said I need to eat”

Day 15 – “They said I need to eat”

It was a very long day. Jonathan’s brother called at nine last night and I still didn’t have news for him.

Sebastien was released just after that. His blood sugar levels were normal again, thank goodness, but it still seems like something that should be followed. Someone brought him back to the tent at the church to pick up his things and he looked a little distressed. He huddled to the side with Jenny and Ana and then Jenny called me over to speak to him. “Yo quiero seguir apollando (I want to keep supporting).” It took me a moment and then I realized what he was saying. He wanted to know if it would be okay for him to stay in the tent with the fasters. He didn’t want to leave. He said that he would go out early in the morning for some broth and then come back but he wanted to stay with the fasters. Bless his heart. Of course, he should stay!

We left for the hospital just after that, taking Jenny and Ana with us as they insisted on seeing Jonathan and Francisco. We visited with Jonathan first who was carefully considering the orange jello that a nurse had just brought him. His breathing was somewhat labored but his spirits were good.

Agusto was delighted to see us, particularly Jenny and Ana, expressing surprise that they had left the church to check on him. He looked so young alone in the room with an iv in his arm. He was awaiting the results of an ultrasound to check on his heart.

At six this morning, Agusto was released from the hospital with instructions to follow up with a doctor in 24 hours. When we asked him what the doctor said, he quickly responded, "They said I need to eat!" Well, that's probably true, but he needs to slowly begin with broth and work his way from there. We're somewhat concerned that the doctor treated him differently than he treated Jonathan. There was much more care given to Jonathan as someone slowly coming off a 14 day fast.

Jonathan is still in the hospital and called to express concern about the other fasters and solidarity with the Haitians in our community and in Haiti. He's been watching non-stop coverage in the hospital and, as all of you know, it's heartbreaking. How is it possible that the administration is not offering TPS (Temporary Protected Status) to Haitians? How is it possible that mothers are on Day 15 of a fast pleading to stay with their American children? That a US citizen is fasting to stay with his wife? How is it possible?

South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice
305 598 1404

Thursday, January 14, 2010

They Never Tell You About the Bees – 3 Fasters Go To Hospital

The doctor came today. Sebastien, the sixth faster who joined on Day 6, may have diabetes. He’ll be leaving the fast after 7 days. He’s quietly talking with Ana right now. He says that he doesn’t want to leave the fast. He must. He can stay in solidarity but this is serious.

Ana’s sugar is low. We’re waiting to see what the doctor says. She’s sitting in a bright yellow FIU sweatshirt and trying to comfort Sebastien, explaining to him how he’ll need to change his diet in the future.

Jenny looks the worst that I’ve seen her with circles under her eyes and no vibrancy at all. Jenny is usually so “vivo” but what else could we expect on Day 14 of a fast? Her son, Jacinto, turned 13 yesterday. His 15-year-old sister, Stephanie, made him a cake. I can’t help but wonder, if Jenny is sent back to Honduras, how many other birthday cakes will she miss with her children?

The doctor is here. Three fasters are going to the hospital. Francisco may have had a heart attack – the after symptoms point that way. He needs tests. He quietly asked me if he could come back to the fast after they do the tests. “I won’t let them give me food and I can come back, right?” It broke my heart.

Jonathan says he feels fine but the doctor insists that he go to the hospital as well. He has shortness of breath and an issue with his electrolytes that could point to something more serious. He’s determined to come back.

The doctor is recommending that Jenny and Ana go to the hospital as well. Jenny’s pulse and blood pressure are very low. Ana’s sugar is dangerously low. They pressure the doctor. “It’s my baby. It’s my life. You have to understand,” Jenny is declaring. I have tears in my eyes. The fast could cost her life and leaving her children could cost her life. How does one even begin to fathom that choice? How does it even come to that?

Ana is sitting quietly in the corner, swatting away a bee with one hand. The bees started to come about a week ago. Apparently they are attracted to the fruit smell that the fasters give off. The bees really bother Ana. She was swarmed by bees in the desert on her way back to her children.

We just said good bye to Francisco, Sebastien, and Jonathan. Ana, Jenny, and Wilfredo are still here. Please don’t forget them. Call Janet Napolitano (866-587-3023). Now is the time for her to come to Miami. Our community is in pain. Haitians can’t locate their families. People are fasting in tents to stay with their families. Now is the time to speak out – speak out for the families in our community. They need you. We need you.

South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice


More details to follow.

For Our Sister People of Haiti


En estos momentos de tanto dolor para nuestro hermano pueblo Haitiano, nosotros, los ayunantes, nos solidarizamos y enviamos nuestras condolencias. Nuestros pensamientos y todas nuestras oraciones van dirigidas a aquellos que aun no tienen noticia de sus familiares o peor aun han perdido a algun ser querido en este desastre natural. Por esto, pedimos al presidente Obama que les conseda un T.P.S. para que así puedan apoyar a su pais y a sus familiares en estos momentos de angustia.


In these moments of pain for our Haitian brothers and sisters, we, the fasters, want to express our solidarity and send our condolences. Our thoughts and all our prayers are with those who still don’t have news from their family in Haiti or, even worse, have lost a loved one in this natural disaster. Therefore, we call on President Obama to grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the United States so that they can support their country and their family members in this moment of anguish.