Pro-migrant hunger strike starts: Women's group in El Paso joins protests of U.S. immigration policy
(Dallas Morning News, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Aug. 28--EL PASO -- A group of women here began a weeklong hunger strike Monday, the latest effort by border activists to bring attention to the plight of illegal immigrants.
Similar grass-roots demonstrations have taken place across the United States in recent days, in part to protest Congress' rejection of a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws; the crackdown on illegal immigrants; and tough security measures along the 2,000-mile border, including a proposed fence.
Many El Paso residents say such actions are hampering trade between the two countries and delaying legal crossing for millions who walk across the border daily, including students who returned to school on Monday.
"We're told that we don't belong in this country, yet it is our sweat and hard work that's contributed to making the United States the powerful nation that it is," said Irma Montoya, director of Mujer Obrera, an El Paso-based group that aids female immigrant workers.
The debate on illegal immigration has polarized the country. On the one side are those who say illegal immigrants are breaking the law, taxing social services and taking jobs from U.S. citizens. On the other, are those who believe all immigrants, legal and illegal, keep the U.S. economy humming by providing a needed workforce.
Communities along the border believe that because of their shared isolation and interdependence, they need one another for survival, analysts have said.
Over the weekend, elected officials along the 1,250-mile Texas-Mexico border met on international bridges in a symbolic gesture of solidarity against the proposed wall. Organizers of the "Hands Across el Rio" campaign said they were disappointed by the turnout.
Similar actions are planned along the border during a 16-day period in September.
"Today is a historic day in the expression of friendship between two mayors, two cities and two countries," El Paso Mayor John Cook said as he embraced Ciudad Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia Lardizabal at the top of the bridge. "It is necessary for Washington and Mexico City to understand that our border doesn't separate us, it joins us."
In El Paso, a city intertwined with Ciudad Juarez, many residents embrace a crackdown on illegal immigration, though their stance differs from others across the country.
"El Paso is in a difficult spot," said Jon Amastae, a Mexico expert at the University of Texas at El Paso.
"'Border security' is the current 'God, motherhood, and apple pie.' No one can afford to deny its importance," he said.
"At the same time, for the most part, Pasenos, as El Paso residents call themselves, don't want a wall, either literal or functional, such as increased checks that slow the international boundary lines."
Irasema Coronado, chairwoman of UTEP's political science department and co-author of Juntos Pero No Revueltos, or "Together, But Not Mixed," a study of the Texas-Chihuahua border, said: "Imagine if poor, uninsured people in the U.S. did not have access to Mexican doctors and affordable medicine in pharmacies. Imagine if Mexicans did not come to the U.S. to consume and to work."
Activists picked locations near the Mexican border to underscore that binational connection.
"They criticize us for not speaking English," said Hilda Villegas, one of the hunger strikers. "But where's the funding, the resources to teach us?"
Ms. Villegas said the hunger strike will end on Labor Day.
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