“My deportation date is April 18,” I overheard a woman say next to me in the large white tent where we were both fasting. Due to a simple miscommunication with her lawyer, Lupita received a deportation order that now threatens to send her back to a country she has not visited in more than 20 years.
She has three grown children who are residing legally in the United States and who plan to remain in the country indefinitely. “I want to stay so that I can help my daughters raise their grandchildren, just like my mother helped me raise mine,” Lupita said.
Lupita was one of the women who came to Washington D.C. for three days in early April for a 48-hour “Women’s Fast for Families” to call on Congress to pass immigration reform and to halt deportations. She and I were among more than 100 women who spent most of those two days in a white tent on the National Mall bustling with activity.
In one corner of our tent, women fashioned cloth hearts and stitched messages of hope into them.
“President Obama, please give us back the hope you taught us to believe in during your campaign,” one of the hearts read. In another corner, women wrote messages of courage to their members of Congress and Senators. “Please, not one more,” they wrote, referring to the deportations.
While they stitched and wrote, these women shared other heartbreaking stories. Norma’s son was driving his sister to school when an officer stopped him for a traffic violation. The next day, the young man, a straight-A community college graduate, found himself in Mexico, a country he hadn’t visited since he was 6. That was in 2010. He hasn’t seen his family since.
Erika’s son-in-law, a young man who grew up in Arizona, was deported because an officer confused his identity with that of a felon. He now he lives in Ecuador, far from his 3-year-old U.S.-citizen daughter who lives in Arizona.
The separation has become unbearable for both the child, who believes her dad abandoned her, and the father, who desperately wants to reunite with his daughter.
These stories highlight the experiences of the more than 2 million people, the majority of whom don’t have criminal records, that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) deported during the Obama administration’s first five years. And these are the stories that carried me through the fast.
Ten hours into the fast, while my stomach grumbled and I began to feel moody, the skeptic in me rose to the surface. “Our fast will not move Congress to act on this issue. I need to eat,” I thought.
But listening to the women’s stories and feeling their commitment to the cause strengthened my bond to the women and to the millions who see immigration reform as their only avenue to a dignified life.
Their stories also reminded me of University of California philosopher Judith Butler’s words on the importance of using the body as a political tool. Without the constant disruption of a calm, constant, dissident voice that says, “We need an end to the suffering that is tearing our communities apart,” nothing will change.
My body, in solidarity with the dozens of other bodies participating in the fast, was my way of speaking to the urgency of immigrants’ pleas and of playing a role in disrupting the calm that permeates Congress.
Here is my own appeal to Obama and members of Congress: In this nation of immigrants, the time to end deportations and pass immigration reform is now.
Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. The author changed the names of the people she quoted in this commentary at their request. IPS-dc.org