On Friday, I went with my friend Josue and my dad to visit the Fast 4 Families event happening outside the offices of local congressman Ed Royce on Birch Street in Brea. The event, sponsored by OCCCO (Orange County Congregation Community Organization) was an attempt to meet with Royce regarding his silence on current immigration reform bill that has stalled in the House of Representatives. Royce, a long time opponent of immigration reform, has refused to meet with local residents regarding this important bill, which would allow a pathway to citizenship for the over 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States.
The Fast 4 Families event included a fast, or "Hunger Strike." Several people were committed to fast until Royce agreed to meet with them. When we visited the hunger strikers, it was the 5th day of the fast, and Royce had still not met with the group. Despite Royce's inaction, the event was successful in raising awareness regarding this issue, which is one of the great social/political/human rights issues of our time.
I got a chance to speak with some of the hunger strikers, to see what compelled them to take these actions. Rogelio Banuelos had been fasting since Monday. Banuelos, who lives in the US under the "deferred action" status (meaning that, for the time being, he cannot be deported), is fasting for members of his family who are undocumented.
Jessica Bravo, also living under deferred action, has had family members deported and witnessed first hand how current U.S. immigration policies "tear apart families and hurt children," like her aunt, whose husband was recently deported, leaving behind a wife and two children. Bravo wants the Speaker of the House to "Stop playing with power, stop stalling on this immigration reform bill, because his lack of commitment is affecting real people with real families."
Andrew Hauserman, a volunteer with OCCCO, was there because he wants to put his faith in action for causes of social justice and equality. He explained how OCCCO is "working for justice in our immigrant communities." Hauserman explained how Ed Royce's district is rapidly changing, with a rising immigrant population, and he hopes Royce's decisions will "represent the values of the voters who live here now, not 25 years ago." Hauserman hopes the Fast4Familes event will put a human face on our country's broken immigration system.
Katie Brazer studied ethnic conflict in college and found, in OCCCO, a way to put her studies and beliefs into action. By working with immigrant families as a volunteer, she has seen first hand the injustices these families face. She wants to make her voice heard, saying, "If you plead it, you lead it."
Edgar Medina is a local resident who lives in Anaheim, and works with OC Human Relations, a group that works to eliminate racism, prejudice, and discrimination in Orange County. Medina was there to show his support and prayer for those undocumented immigrants in Orange County who are struggling under the current system. He hopes events like this will bring sensitivity to this issue. "This is a human problem, more than a political one," Medina explained.
I spoke with the main organizer of the event, Minerva Gomez, who has been working with OCCCO since the early 1990s. Gomez, who speaks with passion, said that she hopes the event will "create a sense of urgency to this issue" and help to "uplift voices of our communities." While Medina was clearly frustrated that Royce had refused to meet with them, despite the fact that he had been in town since Tuesday, she explained how the community response has been positive. People have donated water, clothing, and called Royce to speak their minds. Speaking of representative Royce, Gomez said, "He can choose not to speak, but demographics are going to speak for him very soon."
The volunteers were passing out flyers explaining how local residents can take action on this issue:
1.) Fast and pray for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
2.) Call your congress member saying you support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. (888) 979-7506
3.) Join our social media campaign. Share, like, and follow us online:
Also included on the flyer was a prayer calendar for people of faith. They were encouraging people to pray over the course of the hunger strike, but I think these prayer suggestions are still quite relevant:
Monday: Ask God to grant wisdom and courage to our congressional House of Representatives to vote on immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
Tuesday: Ask for comfort for immigrant families, especially those that are facing the tragedy of deportations and family separations.
Wednesday: Pray for provisions for distressed immigrant families facing poverty and economic hardship.
Thursday: Pray for courage and strength for those that have suffered human rights abuses and threats at their place of employment.
Friday: Ask God to open the hearts of our elected officials and American public to welcome the sojourner and truly love the immigrant.
While we were there, a group of counter-protestors showed up with signs that said things like: Stop Illegal Immigration, Amnesty is Treason, and Support American Workers. The demographic of the counter protestors was significantly older and whiter than the Fast4Families group. These people showed that, while demographics are changing, there remains a very conservative demographic in Orange County. For more on this phenomenon, I would recommend the book Suburban Warriors: The Rise of the New American Right by Lisa McGirr. It gives a lot of insight into the origins of groups and people like this woman, who encouraged us to visit her web site www.wethepeoplerising.com
Interestingly, as I was writing this at Starbucks in Fullerton, I ran into local State Assembly woman Sharon Quirk-Silva, and asked for her insights on this issue. I was most curious why Royce would refuse to even meet with the Fast4Families. She explained that there are groups (like the one described above) who make up Royce's supporters, who would applaud him for taking a "hard line" on immigration and refusing to meet with Fast4Families. What this demonstrates to me is that, while change is most likely on the horizon, there still remains a vocal opposition to change in the OC. I will continue to follow this issue with great interest.
All photos by Josue Rivas. Visit www.josuerivasfoto.com