“If they come for him, you have to let him go.”
To this day, my mother’s words still haunt me. Three years ago my fiancé, Eduardo, and I were newly engaged and looking forward to building a life together. Weeks after our engagement, we received the shocking news that Eduardo’s lawyer negligently failed to renew his work visa, leaving Eduardo subject to immediate deportation.
I frantically shared the news with my mother, herself an immigrant. Knowing all too well the brokenness of the U.S. immigration system, my mother understood the gravity of the situation and advised me not to resist and make matters worse if ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents came for Eduardo. It was advice no mother should ever have to give.
So Eduardo and I did the only thing we could do to stay together. Four days later we were married and entered into the grueling, multiyear process to obtain a permanent green card for Eduardo. It was not how we wanted to start our marriage, but people go to great lengths for the people they love.
It’s this same spirit of love that radically inspired immigration reform advocates to organize a nationwide fast, the “Fast for Families,” to protest unjust immigration laws – which result in families broken apart by deportation – and to pray for reform. For more than 30 days, thousands of supporters across the country prayed, fasted, and urged Congress to “welcome the stranger.” (For more info, read “A Fast for Families” in the February 2014 issue of Sojourners magazine.)
I visited the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall and found myself standing on holy ground. The walls were covered with an array of handwritten prayers, supportive messages, and inspiring artwork, as well as heartbreaking pleas and photos of families separated by deportation. Together with other fasters, we wept as we shared our stories and our hopes, our fears and our frustrations. And I felt the spirit of God at work in that place.
I only intended to fast for half a day that Friday, but I was moved to carry it through the weekend. As a novice faster, I was sustained by the words of Eliseo Medina, one of the core fasters and organizers of the campaign:
Doing without food will not be easy, and I know that I will suffer physical hunger. But there is a deeper hunger within us. A hunger for an end to a system that creates such misery among those that come here to escape poverty and violence in search of the American dream, yet too often find death or mistreatment. That is why I fast; not out of anger, but out of faith, hope, and love.
It was that hunger for justice that moved me to fast in solidarity with the millions of immigrants in our country who dwell in the shadows as second-class citizens. I fasted for those who sought a better life, such as my husband who crossed the border each day from Juarez, Mexico, to be educated in El Paso, Texas. And I fasted for those who live with the agonizing fear that their son, daughter, father, mother, or spouse might be deported.
After experiencing such an outpouring of love, support, and solidarity from the other fasters, I found it difficult to leave the Fast for Families tent. My heart and soul became renewed in that holy place, and I desperately wanted to remain there in spiritual security. But just as the apostles were called to come down from the mountain after Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9), we, too, must take this spirit of transformation into the world and continue to press for comprehensive immigration reform.
God never created us to hide behind walls or borders – spiritual or otherwise. So in 2014 the Fast for Families campaign will go deeper into every congressional district in the U.S. We’ll keep fasting until this moral crisis ends. We will pray and advocate until Congress passes immigration reform. And we won’t stop – because people go to great lengths for those they love.
Elaina Ramsey is assistant editor of Sojourners magazine.