Fast for Familias: Latinx Christians Intercede for Migrants Impacted by Trump’s ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policy

fast for familias
(Photo: Nitish Meena/Unsplash)

Latinx Christian authors, pastors, professors, and activists have spearheaded a #FastForFamilias social media campaign to inspire others to fast and pray for migrant families ensnared by President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy enacted in May.

Fast for Familias was launched in June in response to the White House policy to prosecute all immigrants who unlawfully cross the southwest border into the U.S., which resulted in thousands of children being taken from their parents and placed with sponsors or held in shelters designated by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. There is no law mandating that migrant families be separated. In some cases, even those legally seeking asylum have been targeted for prosecution, according to PolitiFact.

On June 29, Fast for Familias organizers led a 24-hour fast and prayer campaign to stop family separation at the border, reunify separated migrant families, and seek compassionate treatment for immigrants. The Bible presents examples of people turning to fasting and prayer for numerous reasons, including as a desperate appeal for God to intervene in a situation or act on their behalf.

For leaders like author and Chicago pastor Sandra Maria Van Opstal, a main organizer of Fast for Familias, the call to pray and fast was a necessary response to the family separations taking place at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“When you’re encountering systemic evil and looking at things that are beyond any human capacity to stop because of the decades of entrenched racism, you’re looking at something that requires a miracle,” Van Opstal said. “That’s why you have to cry out to God, to really sustain you.”

While President Trump reversed his policy to separate families at the border on June 20, about 550 children still have not been reunited with their parents—and about 400 parents were deported without their children, according to an NPR report. Meanwhile, about 1,000 recently reunited migrant families may be facing deportation.

Although the Health and Human Services Department has insisted that undocumented children placed in shelters (including those who arrived at the border as “unaccompanied minors”) were being well cared for, some have reported being drugged against their will and others, particularly at one Arizona shelter, have been sexually abused.

“We’ve always had an immigration policy issue,” Van Opstal said. “But this felt like a level of evil and trauma that required an urgent response.”

About 300 people signed up to fast on June 29, Van Opstal said. Now, Fast for Familias continues encouraging Christians to fast every Monday, while looking to launch the next campaign in the fall.

Van Opstal put Fast for Familias in motion after she attended a Washington, D.C., rally and returned home to her children, who had missed her while she was away. “I’m feeling their breath and smelling their hair and thinking, ‘This is intimacy,’” Van Opstal said. “And this is what those kids and their mothers don’t have.”

Van Opstal also felt strongly that Latinx Christians needed to lead the way in the call to fast and pray for targeted migrants, and so she invited other key Latinx leaders to launch Fast for Familias with her.

One of those leaders was Christian author and activist Marlena Graves, who helped start another social media campaign for migrant families called #notwithoutmychild. Graves began working on that campaign after having a conversation with her spiritual director in which she expressed how powerless she had felt to do anything.

“She was like, ‘Marlena, all of us have been given a certain amount of power, and God calls you to use the power that you have,’” Graves said.

Graves encouraged Christians to use their power by increasing their awareness, following the lead of Latinx churches, contacting their representatives, helping families affected by immigration raids, and supporting organizations like the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a labor union representing migrant farm workers with which she’s involved. Graves shared more ideas for Christians who want to assist immigrant families in a Twitter thread.

“Be the answer to your prayers by doing something concrete if you can. Whatever you can do within your power,” she said.

Van Opstal thought back to other times in history in which comfortable Christians did not stand up for the marginalized and oppressed, such as during the Holocaust, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the genocidal removal of Native Americans from their lands, and the forced internment of Japanese Americans.

“I want people to know that 50 years from now, their children will read about this in a history book, and they will turn to their grandparents and say, ‘Where were you when this was happening?’ I want to say to my grandkids, ‘I was doing everything I could,’” said Van Opstal.

Other organizers listed on the Fast for Familias website include: the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra; Dr. Robert Chao Romero; the Rev. Danny Martinez; Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros; Mayra Macedo-Nolan; Luis “Paco” Amador; and Evelmyn Ivens.

Editor’s note: The reporter and Marlena Graves are both members of the Redbud Writers Guild.

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    Written by Cat Knarr

    Cat Knarr lives in Chicago, where she enjoys writing her YA sci-fi novel with Jamie Nunn and reading all the books she can get her hands on. As a multiracial Christian, Cat has been drawn to stories about race and religion, writing for UrbanFaith, Christianity Today, The Chicago Reporter, and more. Follow Cat on Twitter: @CatKnarr.

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