A group of 100 women from across the country convened Monday just steps from the U.S. Capitol to kick off a 48-hour fast to call on Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill and to urge President Barack Obama to stop deportations.
We are going to give up our food for the next 48 hours so that we can feed the courage of the leaders in the House GOP and we can feed the courage of the executive branch to both pass immigration reform in the House and to stop deportations and end the suffering of families across the country, said Pramila Jayapal, chair of We Belong Together, one of the groups that organized the fast.
Following in the example of the Fast for Families campaign, the 100 women participating in the 48-hour fast set up a tent on the National Mall where theyll be fasting until Wednesday.
The fast is being called Womens Fast for Families. It is a culmination of a month-long series of nationwide 24-hours fasts that involved about 1,500 women from 35 states. It also follows a four-day fast in Virginia by the Fast for Families campaign that ended Monday.
Participants of the fast include undocumented women and advocates of immigration reform from organizations like the SEIU and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM).
We are here because we want to keep our families together, said Kica Matos, spokesperson for FIRM and one of the women who are fasting. We are here because as mothers, sisters, wives and women we deeply feel the impact of a broken immigration system.
Throughout the 48-hour fast, the women will be collecting notes in the shape of a heart with messages from fasters and supporters to encourage elected officials to act. Theyll deliver the hearts to members of Congress after breaking the fast on Wednesday.
Immigration reform seen as a womens issue
At a press conference inside the tent on Monday, several women explained why immigration reform is a womens issue.
They noted that three-fourths of all immigrants in the U.S. are women and children, with women making up 51 percent of all immigrants. Yet, only about a quarter of work visas are issued to women.
The family visa system has become the main avenue available for women to immigrate legally to the U.S. But with a backlog of 4.3 million people waiting for family visas, women have to wait years and sometimes decades to come to the U.S. legally.
The women also said most immigrant women are undocumented and are working in professions that dont pay them fair wages. Their employment is also oftentimes informal, which makes it challenging for women to demonstrate their work history for immigration purposes.
Whats more, they said some undocumented women face sexual harassment and exploitation in the workforce, but they dont report such abuses because they fear theyll be deported.
Speaking inside the tent on Monday was also Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who leads the Congressional Womens Working Group on Immigration Reform. She spoke about how the current immigration laws and policies in the U.S. are incompatible with our basic American values.
They trap immigrant women in violent relationships, keeps them in dangerous low-paying jobs, separates mothers from their children and prevents immigrant women from making the most of their talents and skills for their families and our country, Roybal-Allard said of the nations immigration laws and policies.
During Mondays press conference, several women also told personal stories of how theyve been impacted by the nations broken immigration system. Norma Mendoza, whose family has been living in New Mexico for 17 years, was one of them.
She told the story of how her son was deported to Mexico in 2010 over a traffic violation. She described her son as a studious college student who was studying at the University of New Mexico to become an architect before he was deported.
After living in Mexico for the past four years, Mendozas son decided to join about 150 people last month to cross the U.S.-Mexico border legally and seek humanitarian parole, which would allow him to stay in the U.S. He was arrested soon after crossing the border and is still detained.
Now, Mendoza is calling for the release of her son, as well as for immigration reform and a halt of deportations.
I dont want any more suffering for my family, Mendoza said. I dont want any more suffering for all the families across the country.