I spent this weekend fasting in solidarity with the mothers being held with their children at the immigration detention center in Karnes, Texas. On Monday, these brave women launched a hunger strike and work stoppage, saying: “We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like criminals. We are not criminals nor do we pose any threat to this country. … All we want is FREEDOM! … We know that any mother would do the same thing that we are doing for our children.
During the fast, I spent the days at our local Quaker Meetinghouse (where I am a member), a place that is full of deep quiet, love, and spirit. I meditated and read and prayed and wrote. Many friends stopped by to visit me and join in solidarity with the fasting women, and we made cards with supportive messages to send to the women. People also made signs and we took pictures as part of the online protest.
Sometimes we sang songs about hope and freedom: I Shall Be Released, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (Hold On), Let My People Go. For some reason, one song that has really spoken to me this week is Let it Be, especially the line: “And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.” I’ve sung that song every day this week, often with tears in my eyes. I somehow think Mother Mary would be in solidarity with the Karnes Mothers too.
At the end of my first day of fasting, I spoke to my friend Sonia on the phone. She had been part of the hunger strike since Monday, and yet her voice sounded stronger than ever. She said she felt empowered by having been able to take action together with other detained women. Her strength, she said, came from being together with these other women. During the fast, she said she had felt an especially close communion with God, which helped to calm her soul and help her find some peace in the midst of the ongoing horrors of sustained incarceration with her children.
I too, found peace during my fast, and often felt in close communion with the women on hunger strike at Karnes. Although I miss seeing Sonia and her children, somehow knowing that we were fasting together made me feel very close to her. Out of this spirit, I wrote a letter of support to the Karnes Mothers, which read as follows:
Dear Friends, courageous mothers in struggle who are being detained in Karnes Texas, Receive a warm greeting from Santa Barbara, California, where I am in solidarity with you. Today, Good Friday, I have joined the hunger strike that you all initiated this week. I am fasting to demand that you and your children be set free. I am fasting to call for the end to the horrible practice of detaining mothers and children in prisons. I am fasting because as mothers you are sacrificing yourselves for the wellbeing of your children, because I know, just as you do, that children need to be free. With my fast, I want to demonstrate to you and your children my full and unconditional support. I want immigration officials and politicians, the President himself, and the world at large, to know that your demands are just and right. I join the clamor of voices asking for freedom for all detained families. I thank all of you for your courage, which guides and inspires us all in the struggle against this injustice. May God care for you and lift you up in his hands so that you may always have the strength to continue fighting. Know that here in California and in many places around the world, there are many people who accompany, joining in your struggle. You are not alone. With this message I say goodbye, but not without first thanking you again for your amazing courage and encouraging you to stay strong in all of your many efforts on behalf of your children.
Now my fast is over, and so it seems, is the Karnes hunger strike, at least for now. The hunger striking mothers have reportedly given Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 10 days to respond to their demands for freedom. If they do not see progress on their cases in this direction, they plan to announce further collective action. The hunger strike certainly was effective in many ways: it allowed the detained women to feel empowered and galvanized many of us into stepping up our solidarity and accompaniment of these detained families. It also garned significant media attention in many major news outlets (see some quotes from me in this ThinkProgress piece). Let us hope and pray that the courageous actions of these women touch the hard hearts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and result in their releasesand the end of family detention once and for all.