Robin Vestal is a founding member of Starving for Justice—a group dedicated to working toward civil and human rights for immigrants in the United States through nonviolent protest via a weekly fast. They have built a strong community on Facebook to support members and offer advice. You can get more information and read personal statements from other participants at http://www.starvingforjustice.org.
Deborah de Santos and I began Starving for Justice. She has been advocating for her friend Audrius who has been in detention now for over three years. We were frustrated and wanted to do more than sign petitions and complain, so we decided that one way to take a stand was to fast for justice. The decision to do a weekly fast instead of a hunger strike came with the belief that the first step in changing the world is changing ourselves. Many of the people in our group have family members affected by immigration issues and some are living outside of the country to be with family members who have been deported.
I saw the post from Rev. Jeff Jones about his fast in solidarity with Salvador Zamora and Martin Altamirano and we as a group also wanted to express our support of the hunger strike and their actions. We have also fasted in solidarity with the people of Alabama and a few fasts have been in honor of families that have been separated by deportation or detention.
Rewind to January 12, 2010, the day an earthquake struck in Haiti. The devastation was almost more than I could comprehend, especially in a country right off our coastline. In the aftermath, people from Haiti were understandably trying to leave their devastated country. I was shocked to hear Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security come out and say that the United States was not going to allow increased immigration because “they need to stay and rebuild.” Then Michael Clemens from the Center for Global Development wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post about how one of the most helpful and beneficial things the United States could do was to give a “golden door” to Haitians after the earthquake so that immigrants from Haiti could effectively help their relatives left behind. I got excited about this and wrote to him. I was shocked to hear back from him that the vast majority of responses he got to his article were nasty, xenophobic, colorist, and ethnicist in nature. Undeterred, I wrote to the President, major political leaders of both parties, and my Senators and Congressmen, and received at best a form letter or no letter in response.
I started paying more attention to immigration issues and was shocked at what I found: families being torn apart, impossible decisions being thrust on people only trying to make a life for themselves and their families. Instead of welcoming people to our country I found that we were persecuting people and accusing them of “cutting to the front of the line” when in fact there was no line to stand in. This violates everything I believe in. I believe that each person is made in the image of God. I believe that an accident of place of birth and color of skin neither entitles one to great advantages over anyone else nor should condemn one to a life of abject poverty and struggle.
After learning more about the issue, I see a systemic injustice that on one hand demonizes people for being here illegally and at the same time creates a demand for a workforce that can not complain about working conditions and pay (or lack thereof). This must be corrected. I have also learned about the big money behind some of the new immigration laws that are designed to create an influx of detention for profit.
Injustice causes obvious damage to the people being oppressed but it also creates a stain on the souls of the people that are directly or indirectly involved in the oppression. At the worst, allowing hate to run rampant creates monsters of us. How do we counter this?
The only way to effectively counter hate is with loving nonviolent resistance. I have been fasting the last 14 Tuesdays as a way to bring attention to the need for justice for immigrants in this country. I hope to change myself by repenting for the ways I’ve been complicit in this evil and help others to see the injustices being done to fellow human beings.