Hungry for Immigration Reform

Immigration activists turn to hunger strikes, vigils to support detainees and to call national attention to the need for immigration reform.

Undocumented immigrants seeking long-awaited immigration reform are using hunger strikes as a political protest tool, hoping to pressure lawmakers into halting deportations and providing a means to gain legal status in the U.S. Most recently, immigrant hunger strikes have occurred at detention facilities in Tacoma, Washington and Phoenix.

At the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, the hunger strike began March 7. 750 of the center’s approximately 1,300 detainees participated in the protest. Officials with Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE), however, attempted to curtail the protests by invoking rules calling for medical evaluation and possible treatment of detainees who refused to eat for 72 hours. Based on the health assessment, detainees could be force fed.

In Phoenix, protesters maintained their hunger strike for 15 days to draw attention to the need for immigration reform. Supporters maintained vigils at the ICE detention facility, with some chaining themselves to buildings and blocking buses carrying deportees.

Immigration activist Erika Andiola, was arrested for trespassing as she protested in support of the strikers in Phoenix.

“We have tried everything, so now it’s really putting our bodies in the front lines,” she said in her promise to continue her fight for immigration reform as reported by the Christian Science Monitor.

To at least some degree, the protests seem to be working. ICE operations in Chicago, San Francisco and Fairfax, Virginia all were temporarily derailed as protesters descended on those facilities.

In an approach intended to give immediate help to those who could be deported, some activists are turning themselves in to authorities with the specific aim of spending time in detention centers. Once inside, the activists work to identify and document cases of those who might be eligible for release.

The high-profile activism of hunger strikes and supportive vigils, sometimes referred to as protest-theater, is a clear indicator of the growing frustration faced daily by undocumented immigrants.