On January 25, Donald Trump signed an executive order to defund sanctuary cities that protect undocumented immigrants. The following day, Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Cuban refugee, became the first mayor in the country to officially and publicly comply with Trump’s divisive order. He even got a thank you tweet from the president himself: “Strong!”
Gimenez’s actions have turned Miami-Dade, a county made up of more than 156,000 undocumented immigrants, into a battleground for Trump’s immigration policy. Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz weighed in to disagree with Gimenez’s decision to “bow down” to Trump instead of challenging the constitutionality of the executive order, as several mayors across the country have done. Diaz also reminded the mayor of his roots: “Mayor Gimenez and I both came to this country as refugees, without legal status, and we became Americans. Fifty years later, we became mayors. Had mayors back then acted as Mayor Gimenez has now, we may not have had that chance. Miami is a city built on the hopes and aspirations of immigrants. Our mayor must be a leader, not a follower.”
This week, a group of young activists employed an age-old immigrant activist tradition of resistance: fasting. The Miamians, one of whom is undocumented, have spent the last 100 hours—four days—without food, sitting outside the mayor’s office, and sleeping in a local church. The fast isn’t a protest, says Tomas Kennedy, Chair of the Miami-Dade Progressive Caucus and one of the activists participating, but more like a spiritual demonstration aimed at raising awareness and consciousness about an issue. The activists will break their fast following Friday’s commission meeting, where 13 city officials, seven of whom are Cuban-born immigrants, will vote on whether to uphold the mayor’s decision.
I spent some time with the group of activists, who were in good spirits Thursday and cracking jokes about Trump’s press conference, and asked why they each decided to join the fast.
“As a formerly undocumented person, I know the fear our communities are feeling and what’s at stake. I’m fasting to highlight this injustice and to ask that the Miami-Dade County Commission project our immigrant community.”
“I joined the fast as a call to consciousness and love in our community. The mayor is supporting a divisive agenda that destroys lives and instills fear. Those are not values I stand behind, which is why I felt called to step up and [am] willing to sacrifice my comfort and body to remind people of our duty to love and protect each other above all else.”
“I joined this fast because I was privileged enough, lucky even, to have been born in the USA. Many religions teach us that we ought to look out for our neighbors. It’s also basic human decency. I feel it is my duty to stand up against injustices. I served in the United States Peace Corps in the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic, and that’s where I truly learned to advocate for others. When I left in 2013, the Dominican government amended their constitution to retroactively revoke citizenship to anyone born to a Haitian parent. That could very easily become our reality in this administration if we don’t proactively do something to prevent it.”
“I am fasting for my family and for my community. I am a first generation citizen and I deeply respect the struggles that immigrant families go through just to provide safety and security for their loved ones. I feel privileged to have been born here. I think that if people put their lives on the line, then I can put my body out there with them. I also deeply respect the way our community has been there for us throughout the fast, including faith leaders from various religions. This has been a humbling and very rewarding experience, and my only hope is that our political leaders see the sacrifice that our immigrant community members make everyday.”
“As an undocumented DACA student, I’ve seen fear enter my community. My parents have so much fear that they don’t want to drive alone. This is an urgent matter that affects lives, families, and security. I joined to show Gimenez I will put my body on the line before my community and my parents are affected and broken up.”
Update: The commission voted 9-3, with one commissioner absent, in support of Gimenez’s action to drop sanctuary protection for undocumented immigrants.