Several dozen human-rights advocates, bracing for the long haul in comprehensive immigration reform, made their concerns public June 2-5 during a 72-hour fast in multiple New York City locations.
"The courage of the people who chose to take this temporary sanctuary is remarkable," says the Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister of Judson Memorial UCC at Washington Square South in New York City. Schaper was one of seven pastors who took part in the fast, along with 64 undocumented immigrants. Forty-six participants completed the entire 72-hour fast.
With the Statue of Liberty prominently positioned as the backdrop, the fast began in Clinton Castle in Battery Park, with several New York City council members and Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, who serves New York’s 12th Congressional District, on hand to demonstrate their support.
"We are really facing the long haul with immigration rights," says Schaper. "We’re all thinking it will be a three- to five-year struggle, and are very concerned that President Obama has added money to the detention and deportation budget for 2012. That is very, very upsetting, I think."
Schaper urged New Yorkers and local communities nationwide to work to reform the current practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Rikers Island. "We have the full support of the New York City Council and the mayor on this," she says, referring to Rikers Island, the city’s primary correctional complex. "Let’s not make it easy for ICE to deport people."
The fasters’ visit to Ellis Island proved both moving and disheartening, says Schaper. "We were able to acquaint this generation of immigrants with the history of previous ones. They were so appreciative of if it, even though so many Irish, Italian and German immigrants from back then aren’t being so nice right now."
Another highlight was the full-day devotion June 3 to LGBT issues. "We held a teach-in, which was just terrific," says Schaper, noting that a half-dozen fasters are "out" LBGT persons. "The organizations we partnered with really wanted it to happen."
Those partners were Make the Road New York, a group comprising primarily low-income Latinos and promoting economic justice, equity and opportunity; the NYC New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, an interfaith network of immigrant families and faith communities/organizations; and the New York City Immigration Coalition, consisting of more than 200 community-based organizations serving established and emerging immigrant communities.
Make the Road and New Sanctuary Coalition are conducting community education and outreach effort to engage thousands of community members in passing comprehensive immigration reform; participating in the local campaign to end New York’s collaboration with ICE at Rikers Island; and repudiating the signing of SB 1070 into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ).
The principal objectives of fast participants and their supporters are:
1. Just immigration reform
2. Stopping deportations that separate families
3. Ending New York’s collaboration with ICE at Rikers Island
4. Passing the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act
Fasters held a candlelight vigil, distributed fliers, wrote letters and created a "unity quilt." In addition, they took part in an open-mic session and viewed a screening of the film "The Sixth Section" a 27-minute documentary of blended digital animation, home video, cinema verité and interview footage to depict the organizing of a Mexican immigrant community in New York.
The fast concluded with a "closing circle" in Washington Square Park in what Schaper called "a beautiful ceremony."