Faster wants immigration justice

When I was recently offered a small piece of bread on the 22nd day of fasting — forced to end my part in the “Fast For Families” due to medical advice — I felt disappointed that my body could not keep up with my deep level of commitment to this fight, but I also felt stronger about the likelihood of our eventual success.

I am a “Dreamer” who believes that the dreams of immigrant communities and all Americans who seek justice will come true. I am convinced the public embraces our cause, and we will win common-sense immigration reform.

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I have faith because of the transformation of mind and spirit that I experienced in Washington, D.C., as I fasted with Eliseo Medina, the former secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union; and D.J. Yoon, who leads the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. Together, near the steps of the U.S. Capitol, we abstained from food with hopes of showing Congress the immorality of our current immigration system.

Every day of my fast, I woke up thinking that perhaps the fate of 11 million people depended on our sacrifice and on making sure that we were saying and doing the right things to touch the heart of Speaker John Boehner.

For my family and me, immigration is not just a political issue, it is personal.

We came to the U.S. more than a dozen years ago without documents seeking a better future. Though I qualified last year for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which lets me live and work here temporarily, the DACA has not removed my fear that my family and millions of others like us can suddenly be separated by deportations under the current system that does not make any sense. We are Americans; this is our home.

The promise of America’s democracy led me to Mi Familia Vota during the 2006 election season, when I was 16 years old. I volunteered for MFV’s mission to register voters in Arizona and get them to the polls. Though I could not vote, the importance of the Latino vote became even more important to me after S.B. 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, went into effect in 2010. I realized that Latinos’ power to influence change comes from growing the number of Latino voters and staying involved. We are the future.

After the historic 2012 election and the Senate vote this year on immigration reform, we focused on the House’s refusal to take a vote, never forgetting that each day of inaction means more family separations, one more death at the border.

I signed up for the “Fast for Families” for what I thought would be a seven-day fast. As our hunger for food grew, our hunger for justice grew even stronger. On the seventh day, we agreed to continue until our bodies could no longer sustain it.

It was hard, but when I was hit with hunger pangs, I focused on how my family managed to survive our many struggles and on the many meals my parents gave up to make sure we had a better tomorrow. I thought of the stories of families I have worked with to mobilize our communities and of the rejection and hatred we face as immigrants and as people of color.

Those biases — still voiced by some conservatives in Congress who have blocked immigration reform — used to make me angry. But fasting helped me turn that anger into hope.

My hope also was supported by the thousands of emails we received from across the U.S. and as far away as Australia. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sat with us and heard about our struggles. Vice President Biden understood that “feeling” American is being American. One congresswoman said she had lost all hope for immigration reform but was now reinspired by our campaign.

Still, we were ignored by Boehner and his allies, who refuse to do what is morally right.

When I returned to Phoenix last weekend, my mom apologized to me for bringing us to this country without fully realizing the many challenges and suffering we would face. I welcome the challenge to keep the dream alive, to finally have our parents live without fear of discrimination and deportation.

I’ll be back in Washington to keep pressuring the Speaker to let Congress pass a law that let’s us earn citizenship. As Obama reiterated, “It is not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ ”

Yes, we will win.

Avila is an Arizona resident and member of Mi Familia Vota, a national organization working to unite the Latino community and its allies to ensure social and economic justice through increased civic participation.