One week after launching their protest on the doorsteps of the White House, the three people who had been starving themselves for the president’s attention made a decision.
The youngest of the strikers, 18-year-old college student Cynthia Diaz, had been subsisting on water alone for five days to bring attention to her detained immigrant mother when she appeared on Saturday’s edition of Melissa Harris-Perry. The host emphasized to Diaz, at the end of the interview, her hope that the young activist “continue to care for” herself as she worked to liberate her mother, Maria del Rosario Rodriguez, from an immigration detention center.
That had an effect on Diaz.
“I was already really emotional because I hadn’t eaten in five days,” she told msnbc in a Monday interview. “I started crying after the interview. I was really touched by that.”
“MHP” COLUMN: Cynthia Diaz on why she went on a hunger strike for her mom
The next day, Diaz and her two fellow strikers–Naira Zapata, 19, and Jose Valdez, 54–resumed eating after going six days without. They were replaced by families of detainees held in the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas. One of them, Ernestina Hernandez, will be hunger-striking for in honor of her husband, Manuel Martinez-Arambula, a Corley detainee who was hunger-striking himself when he was deported on April 3, according to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
He was a detainee in the center, and they had a whole list of demands,” Hernandez told msnbc via translator on the first day of her water-only strike in Washington. Her husband and others were protesting poor treatment and bad food, as well as detainees allegedly being detained after having served their time at the center.
Hernandez, who plans to strike for seven days before being relieved by activists from New Orleans, feels putting her health at risk is the best option at this point. “We can and should defend our rights. We have to do something. We don’t have a choice,” she said. “In my case, my family has been broken apart, so what else would I do?”
The #Not1More campaign organizer for NDLON, Marisa Franco, explained why hunger strikes are the tool that protesters are using. “With the immigration debate is at an impasse, undocumented people and those who are affected are knocking at the door to be a part of the process,” she told msnbc in a statement. “Given the dire conditions and threats they face, people are to the point where they feel the necessity of putting their bodies and lives at risk to see relief. They’ve been stopping buses and stopping deportations through civil disobedience and this hunger strike is another part of their effort that join a debate that is about them but rarely includes them.”
According to NDLON, Hernandez will be joined in the hunger strike Thursday by Jenny Vasquez Carrasco, a fellow Texan whose mother is in deportation proceedings after Immigration and Customs Enforcement captured her at home. Hernandez hopes they get President Obama to understand that “when he deports one person, he’s deporting an entire family.”
Speaking about her 13-year-old daughter, Hernandez offered that the president has “deported her father to a country that she doesn’t know and that’s full of risk, and that I don’t want to move her to. At the same time, I don’t her to be without her dad.”
Diaz learned on Tuesday that she’s one step closer to being reunited with her mother. An NDLON spokesman told msnbc that ICE has determined Del Rosario Rodriguez to have “credible fear,” signifying that she has reason to be concerned about the consequences she’d face if deported back to Mexico. The spokesman added that this decision didn’t remove Diaz’s mother from the threat of deportation, but has moved her case forward to be considered for humanitarian parole or asylum.