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Immigration Reform News: Following 9-Day Fast In Front Of 5th Circuit, Hunger Striker Focused On 2016 Presidential Election

23 Oct

Immigrants like Nora Hernandez are really angry at the 5th Circuit Court. How angry? Enough to use her vacation time to fly to the steps of the New Orleans court and not eat any food for nine days. The Latin Times spoke to Hernandez on Friday, the day after the fast ended. She told us about her hunger pains, her motivation to keep fighting and how she is pretty much over the judicial branch, who immigration advocates blame for torpedoing Barack Obama’s deportation relief programs DACA and DAPA.

First, a note on the 5th Circuit Court. The judicial body sits a rung above the Texas district court that froze the program in February and a rung below the U.S. Supreme Court, who could finally settle the legality of the White House’s immigration policy.

Five million undocumented immigrants’ lives hang in the balance, but the 5th circuit has dragged its feet, stretching its ruling far past its own two month deadline. It heard arguments in July. The fast, organized by FIRM, sought to bring attention to what activists charge is a collusion by the three 5th Circuit judges to aid the Republican strategy of running out the clock.

Hernandez was first brought to the U.S. when she was 11. She is one of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who weren’t eligible for the Obama’s first draft of DACA, but she would have been eligible for deportation relief starting February if not for the lawsuit.

Her and the other 8 activists fasted for 9 days, consuming only water and sleeping in a local church. Their actions inspired sympathy fasts in other states as well.

“The first day I felt dizzy, I felt hungry,” Hernandez told the Latin Times in a phone interview.

On her end of the line, she was waiting for her flight back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she works legally as a contract accountant. She had to get time off work to make the trip, making the fast probably the worst New Orleans vacation ever.

“The worst days were the third and the fifth day. I was dizzy I was throwing up. On the fifth day I was crying. It was terrible,” she said. “After the fifth day, you don’t feel pain anymore you don’t feel anything.”

The group spent 12 hours per day on the steps of the court, but never interacted with a judge or their aids, according to Hernandez. Ostensibly, their actions were directed at the court. But if they strike accomplished anything, it was with the public and aimed at two other branches of government.

“We mobilized a lot of people around the country, and that’s important,” Hernandez said. Both parties need to know that we’re doing something and that we’re not going to forget.”

One voter who is definitely not going to forget about the Republican states’ coalition lawsuit is Hernandez’s mother, a Mexican national and permanent resident who is in the process of getting citizenship.

Neither will Hernandez’s step-father, a native-born American, or her boss, or her friends in Albuquerque, etc. While the 11.2 million immigrant in the country illegally can’t vote, they are tightly connected with plenty of voters. The question is whether or not pro-immigrant activists can  can organize voters in ways that they couldn’t in previous elections.

Why The Did The 5th Circuit Court Delay?

Legal experts do not agree on the reason for the 5th Circuit Court’s delay. José R. Pérez, Jr., an immigration lawyer and partner at Foster LLP, thinks that the activists are spot-on. The court, he says, are essentially supporting Republicans who initiated the lawsuit — two of the three judges are Republican appointees — and their delay is suspicious.

“The delay in issuing a decision in this case is atypical,” Pérez told the Latin Times in an email.

“My hunch,” he continued, “is that the three judges who heard oral arguments on whether to stay the temporary injunction blocking the Obama executive action on expanded DACA and DAPA are influenced by the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Republican Party.”

Michael W. McConnell, a former judge and Republican appointee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, disagrees. The delay, he says, does not mean that the court is playing politics.

“It probably means someone is working on a dissent. Important cases take time,” McConnell said in an email from Stanford Law school, where he is a Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center.

As McConnell warned back in February, the Texas District Court’s initial freeze on Obama’s policies is unlikely to be reversed until the case is settled. One area where scholars tend to agree: this isn’t likely to happen while Obama is in office, or at least not enough time for him to implement the programs.

According to Pérez, the delay “might prevent the U.S. Supreme Court to possibly hear this matter on appeal until after the November 2016 elections.”

With the hunger strike behind her, Hernandez says that she is looking past the judicial branch, and toward the 2016 elections. She’s also starting to eat food again, starting with fruit and working her way up to a full meal. What does she plan to eat back home in Albuquerque?

“I’ll be with my mom, so I don’t know… something light,” she says, adding that in the short term she’s got another problem to deal with. “I lost 13 pounds, and now none of my clothes fit on me.”