Helena Yang, ‘14
The hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay prison began in February, incited by a search for contraband copies of the Koran. Two months later, the problem persists and shows no sign of abating. More prisoners have joined the hunger strike, with some officials reporting up to 100 participants. Many of the prisoners have been cleared to leave Guantanamo after a very long and complicated process created by Congressional provisions, which include measures to ensure that a detainee does not pose a threat after being released. However, many detainees cleared to leave still remain in Guantanamo because of the threat of instability in their homelands. Human rights groups and lawyers say that the strike is a way of speaking out and reminding the world that they still exist.
President Obama has promised to shut down this detention facility because, in addition to moral concerns, maintenance of the prison is also a financial burden to the United States. It costs the federal government $800,000 to detain one prisoner per year. The United States military has invested in advanced technology for specialized medical care, indicating there may be a prolonged stay for some prisoners.
The hunger strike is an effort to gain media attention. The prison continues to run at America’s expense, and the failure to close the facility remains a controversy. To regain awareness of the slow process of phasing-out of the prison, the hunger strike was a necessary effort to stand out against the plethora of other controversies competing for national attention.
In the upcoming week a bipartisan group of senators, the “gang of eight,” is preparing to unveil their immigration reform bill. The bill calls for a path for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship over a span of 13 years, after an application and a background check. The bill also includes an updated plan to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border and aims to implement systems for workplace background checks and visa tracking.
Many conservatives point to the lack of a physical barrier as one of their main concerns. This concern is shared by a majority of Americans who favor legalization and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants already in the country; yet this proposed legalization is contingent on the ability of the government to secure the border and cut the flow of more illegal immigration.
This issue is extremely challenging because Congress as well as the general public are skeptical that this bill would be able to handle such a complex issue.
However, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been using the media to gain public support for the legislation. This is one of the most important steps to ensure that the bill passes. A theme discussed in the Inside Politics Washington, DC trip was that any policy change that occurs in country must be one that is supported both by congressmen and the general public. Issues that are successful in progressing to the level of congressional discussion and legislation are the ones that are relatable and have significant media coverage, one recent example being marriage equality. Many individuals have a personal connection to this issue, either because they are part of the LGBTQ community or are an ally for someone close to them. Rubio’s appearance on seven Sunday talk shows demonstrates his awareness of the importance that this issue be visible to maintain momentum and strength.