Fasting for Immigrant Justice this Election Season

By Glen Peterson 11-04-2008

Activists, evangelical Christians, and Catholic Workers have joined in a hunger strike in downtown Los Angeles to expose the plight of immigrants in the United States and to motivate 1 million people to vote. Some are fasting a few days, many for a 21-day duration. They are encamped on a public site where the first European settlers, along with descendants of Africa, Asia, and American indigenous tribes, settled what later became the city of Los Angeles. There is no distinction between the documented and the undocumented among the fasters and visitors. Everyone surrenders his or her i.d. at the entrance.

Frank Romero-Crockett, Lead Organizer and Trainer of Faith/Activism Collective, is one of the activist fasters motivated by his Christian faith and biblical perspective.

The son of immigrant parents from Bolivia and the Philippines, Frank's family struggled as he grew up. His parents worked multiple low-wage jobs to survive. But the family did not suffer the indignity of criminalization as immigrants today do who want to work for a better life for their children. Frank's parents had the opportunity to obtain work visas in the 1970s. Today, Frank knows families at church who live in fear. Parents leave for work in the morning uncertain if they will be home that evening to care for their kids. They risk arrest and deportation because they work. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids have taken family breadwinners, leaving others to fend for themselves. One mother was taken during a traffic stop in front of her child.

It is because of his family, his faith, and his community that Frank is participating in the fast for 21 days. Frank follows the example of Jesus, whose commitment was to peasants of the Roman Empire. He acts on behalf of the "least of these" with the moral authority that comes from Christ's example.

"This is where Christians need to be," says Frank. "Poverty is a theme throughout the Bible. We care for the stranger, the foreigner, and those who are excluded."

Frank wonders aloud if his faith will sustain him for the full 21-day fast. He says there is a cloud of witnesses who have gone before. Jesus fasted 40 days. Cesar Chavez fasted 25 days, 36 days another time. Gandhi's longest fast was 21 days.

Just as Frank's parents sacrificed and did whatever it took to help their children, he believes that this sacrifice of and for the immigrant community is for something that will bring a better future.

The fasting process brings a healing crisis. "Our stomachs have shrunk, but our spirits are high," says Frank. "Faith becomes real when we act on it. We can do things we never knew we could. From the Christian perspective, it is contemplative action and practice. When the Christian community is absent, people are disheartened."

Local and national Spanish language media have covered the action, which seeks to reach out to new voters who have recently become U.S. citizens. After the election there will be a press conference calling for immigration reform-demanding justice and fairness. The nonviolent action hunger strike is organized by a coalition of faith and community organizers known as the Rise Movement. Coalition members include Progressive Christians Uniting, Faith/Activism Collective, the United Farm Workers, Los Angeles Federation of Labor, Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, CHIRLA, and others.

Glen Peterson has 30 years of experience working with faith-based and community organizations that serve immigrant populations dealing with economic development issues and family well-being. He is now a consultant with Capacity Partnership Group.

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