Immigration advocates go hungry to send message to Washington


L.E. Baskow

Supporters with Fast for Families rally with their speakers during a media stop in downtown Henderson as part of a nationwide bus tour Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. L.E. Baskow

Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 | 7:24 p.m.

Fast for Families, a national campaign advocating for immigration reform, visited Southern Nevada on Friday, picking up fellow hunger strikers and proponents for congressional action along the way.

In November, Fast for Families sought to catalyze the immigration debate when Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, Dae Joong “DJ” Yoon of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Rudy Lopez of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota participated in a hunger strike on the National Mall, abstaining from all nourishment except for water, for 22 days.

Avila spoke at a press conference Friday morning across the street from the Henderson Detention Center, the main facility in Nevada for housing immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Inaction is not an option,” he said. “There were a lot of ups and downs in 2013 for the movement. It was like a roller coaster. The fast created a lot of momentum, and we are building on that momentum with the bus tour. Congress will get the message, from community after community, people are committed to seeing reform happen.”

Avila, 23, has received a work permit under the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, but his parents are still living in the country illegally. He said the 26 pounds he lost during the winter fast were nothing compared with the sacrifice his parents and others have made in search of a better life for their children.

Immigration reform was dubbed a top priority by the Obama administration after the 2012 election. And a bill addressing border security, guest workers, high-skilled labor and the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally did pass the Senate the following June, but stalled in the House.

Early this year, House Republicans released a set of guiding principles for an immigration debate, but House Speaker John Boehner later said reform was unlikely until President Barack Obama restored “trust” with Republicans over his ability to enforce the laws.

Little movement has been seen in Congress since then, but advocates across the country continue to push. On Wednesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Boehner, signed by 246 businesses and organizations, urging action. Among those signing on were the Las Vegas and Reno Chambers of Commerce.

Fast for Families plans to visit 75 different congressional districts before reaching Washington, D.C., in April. The tour, while seeking to influence lawmakers, is also an effort to spread awareness of the impact of deportations on families facing long-term separation.

“Our families are being separated every single day … We’re not going to be silenced by being told that we will get a vote eventually,” said Astrid Silva, a local immigration reform advocate from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “We need a vote for our families.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 368,644 people in fiscal year 2013, down approximately 10 percent from 2012.

Avila and others from the group met with the staff of Joe Heck, R-Nev., on Friday, and asked the congressman be a leader in bringing immigration reform to a vote in the House.

Avila stopped short of asking for an administrative halt to deportations while Congress debates reforming the system.

“Immigration reform has to get done, and the ball is in Congress’ court,” he said. “What we need is a permanent solution, and administrative moves that have a termination or deadline only go so far.”

Fast for Families is asking supporters to fast one day a week, every Wednesday, between March 5 and April 9, in solidarity with the campaign.

In Southern Nevada, 30 teachers from the Clark County School District have agreed to join the fast, Rudy Zamora of Mi Familia Vota said.

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Immigration advocates go hungry to send message to Washington
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