Faith leaders joined immigrant rights advocates Tuesday at the nation’s capital to launch a 40-day hunger strike to pressure the House leadership to pass immigration reform legislation before the end of this year.
The fasters participating in the hunger strike say they intend to send a clear message:
“We will not stand for politics as usual when families are being torn apart. We are prepared to risk and put our bodies on the line until Congress puts all 11 million aspiring Americans on the path to citizenship.”
The hunger strike, which is being called “Fast for Families,” will take place on the National Mall where a tent has been set up.
The tent will serve as a place for prayer. Inside it is an altar to remember those who’ve died while attempting to cross the border into the United States, as well as spiritual symbols that represent the unity for immigration reform.
Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian organization focused on social justice, explained at a press conference inside the tent on Tuesday: “For people of faith, this is not a political issue, but a moral one. And for Christians, how we treat 11 million undocumented people, the ‘strangers’ among us is how we treat Christ himself.”
Meanwhile, Alvin Herring, director of training for PICO National Network, told reporters that even though he feels immigration reform is close to becoming a reality, “we have a ways to go yet for the hardest climb is before us.”
“That is why we are fasting and praying — to develop the spiritual energy to make this last momentous time,” Herring said.
The Senate passed its own comprehensive immigration bill in June. But efforts to pass immigration reform legislation have been slow in the House even after supporters have been building momentum through recent civil disobedience actions.
House Republicans prefer to tackle immigration reform piece-by-piece. So far, the House Judiciary Committee, which will hold a hearing on Wednesday over a biometric entry-exit system, has approved several immigration bills but none of them have been brought up to the House floor for a vote.
Fasters refuse to wait any longer for immigration reform
Some Republicans warn that there isn’t enough time left in the legislative calendar to address immigration reform legislation this year, but the fasters say they refuse to wait any longer.
“We refuse to dwell on the frustrations of ‘wait,’” the fasters said in a statement explaining why they are fasting. “We rise with [immigrant families] and declare our moral obligation, grounded in the words of God spoken through the prophets, to move the compassion of elected leadership in the House, and to inspire a resilient movement to cease the deportations, suffering, sorrow and fear and usher a new structure of laws for the good of our country men and women and the sake of our values.”
The fasters include more than a dozen immigrant rights advocates and faith leaders. One of them is Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. He is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which represents more than 40,000 churches and is considered the nation’s largest Christian Hispanic organization.
Rodriguez and Eliseo Medina, former secretary treasurer of the SEIU, are among the four fasters who will participate in the hunger strike every day until medical professionals prevent them from continuing to do so.
Another faster is Sister Simone Campbell, who helped organize the “Nuns on the Bus” national tour this past summer to push for immigration reform. Campbell said that throughout the tour, she met undocumented immigrants who fear being deported and separated from their families.
“Tearing people apart is not who we are as a nation,” Campbell said Tuesday. “It is wrong and it must be stopped.”
The hunger strike comes on the same week that children whose parents have been deported will be in Washington, D.C., to push for immigration reform. It also comes as other states — including Philadelphia, New York, California, Nebraska and Arizona — plan to hold their own hunger strikes and actions in support of immigration reform.