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Why Immigrants Are Fasting In Front Of A Courthouse In Louisiana

CREDIT: FAIR IMMIGRATION REFORM MOVEMENT (FIRM)
CREDIT: FAIR IMMIGRATION REFORM MOVEMENT (FIRM)

Mayra Jannet Ramirez’s parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was just two years old. Now, she’s a student at Harvard University. But she lives in constant fear that her parents — who are undocumented — could be pulled over in their home state of Arkansas. If they’re deported, she doesn’t know what her three younger sisters will do.

“They’re at a point where they understand what can happen if my parents get pulled over,” Ramirez told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “They know that my parents can be deported if they’re arrested and ICE [the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] calls.”

They’re at a point where they understand what can happen if my parents get pulled over.

That’s why, over the course of the next several days, 21-year-old Ramirez will fast and hold nighttime vigils in front of a courthouse in Louisiana.

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Ramirez is awaiting a looming federal court decision that will determine whether her undocumented parents — along with millions of other undocumented immigrants living in the United States — may gain some measure of stability in this country. They’re hoping that that their nine-day act of protest will put pressure on 5th Circuit Court judges to make a decision on the federal programs known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).

In the absence of congressional action, President Obama announced in November 2014 that he would take a series of executive actions to grant temporary deportation reprieve and temporary work authorization to upwards of 4 million undocumented immigrants, including the parents of legal U.S. residents and citizens. On the night of his announcement, immigrants were glued to their television sets, tears of joy in their eyes, minds wandering to visions of a stable future.

Aldo Solano (left), Mayra Jannet Ramirez (right) CREDIT: Juanita Monsalve
Aldo Solano (left), Mayra Jannet Ramirez (right) CREDIT: Juanita Monsalve

But in the months following the president’s announcement, conservative state lawmakers instigated a 26-state lawsuit that led former President George W. Bush-appointed U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to issue an injunction to block the directives from taking effect. The Obama administration has since filed an emergency stay of Hanen’s injunction with 5th Circuit Court judges, which was rejected on a 2–1 vote in May. The government gave oral arguments on July 10 to the same panel, but the judges haven’t yet issued an opinion — even though, according to its website, the goal is to rule within 60 days.

The Obama administration will likely take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. But in order for the case to be heard by the justices in the current session, the administration must receive an appeal from the 5th Circuit by no later than October 23.

That date is coming up soon. So over the next week, advocates participating in the “The Fast To Keep Families Together” campaign will abstain from food for nine days, stay out in front of the courthouse from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and sleep at a church near the 5th Circuit courthouse in New Orleans.

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Twenty-two-year-old Aldo Solano, a DACA beneficiary from Oregon, is one of the activists who will fast alongside Ramirez. He was six when his parents brought him to the United States from Mexico, and he says they “were looking for a better life, a better future, than they had when they were growing up.”

I don’t think it’s right that people are living in the shadows of a broken immigration system of this country.

Though his parents don’t qualify for the DAPA program, Solano is fasting on behalf of other relatives and friends who would qualify. “Even though I have DACA already, it doesn’t mean that my work for my people is finished. I want to do my part so that others can have the same benefits that I receive,” he told ThinkProgress. “I don’t think it’s right that people are living in the shadows of a broken immigration system of this country and I want to do whatever I can, even if it’s for nine days or more days. There’s nothing that you would have told me that would have prevented me from coming here.”

Though the two immigrants are fasting quite literally in the shadow of the courthouse, it remains to be seen whether their nine-day campaign will tug at the heartstrings of circuit judges. In November 2013, immigrant advocates went on a 22-day long fast in a tent pitched on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Various lawmakers — including President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and three House Republicans — visited the fasters, but the action didn’t move House leaders to take up a bipartisan Senate immigration bill.

Nonetheless, Ramirez isn’t deterred. She said she’s hoping the court makes a decision on DACA and DAPA so that her teenage sisters can finally have some peace of mind.

“Seeing that anxiousness has been difficult so I’m fighting for them to have an easier life and to be a role model that they can be proud of who we are and who we’re fighting for,” Ramirez said.