Fourteen years ago, Juana left an abusive relationship, taking her twelve-year-old son and her ten- and eight-year-old daughters with her. Together they walked for six hours across the desert, leaving Mexico for the promise of a better life in Minnesota. When Juana saw a group of people resting, “I wondered why they had stopped,” she recalls. “Then I saw the man pointing a rifle at me.” Captured by the border patrol, Juana and her children ended up back in Tijuana—and in jail. Her son was jailed with the men, separated from his mother and sisters for long, fearful hours, until they were all released. Then they headed back to the border, this time making it across. They have been here ever since.
Last week Juana joined a few dozen other people in a Minneapolis church parking lot, fasting and praying for ten days in support of their goal of comprehensive immigration reform. The water-only fast followed a 30-day period of visiting churches to enlist support, and included daily prayers, cultural events, and visits to elected officials.
The fasters are a diverse lot, united by religious faith commitments and their commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. Some have fasted for the entire time, while others have joined for a few days. Some spend most days in the parking lot of Spirit of the Lakes church, while others continue their regular work, stopping in only occasionally.
Faith Totushek of Monticello joined the fast on Thursday. She is a member of the Covenant Church in Monticello and got to know many immigrants as her church helped to found the Nueva Vida congregation there. She is fasting for immigration reform because, she says, the Gospel means “doing it, not just saying it.”
Faith and her husband own a greenhouse business, and they have employed many immigrant workers over the years, many on the H-2B temporary agricultural worker visa program. The current program does not work, she says. They cannot count on getting approval for enough workers, or at the right times for their business. Faith says the agricultural worker program is bad for workers, too, leaving them without due process rights or the right to leave a job if it is an unjust situation.
Faith says current immigration laws are “an outdated system, not meeting current needs.” Juana lives in that system.
Juana says she feared for her life because of the violence in her home in Mexico, and that she could find no jobs in Mexico to support her family. Fourteen years ago, she had no way to enter the United States legally. Today she still has no way to apply for legal residence or citizenship.
For the past 14 years, she has worked at low-paying jobs in food service and laundries for fourteen years. Her children are still here, too, and their children—her three U.S.-born grandchildren. Like Juana, her children work. They all pay taxes, she says, and all have learned English. Juana wants to become a U.S. citizen. “It is my dream,” she says.
During the 10-day fast, participants have visited the state capitol and the offices of Senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar, and Congressional representatives Jim Ramstad and Tim Walz. Representative Keith Ellison came to them May 12, speaking to an audience of a few hundred supporters. The fast will end May 14 after a 10 a.m. walk down Lake Street to the capitol and a 7:30 p.m. candlelight vigil back at 13th and Lake in Minneapolis.