Several dozen immigration reform advocates are currently fasting outside of their representatives offices across the U.S., hoping to pressure Congress to pass legislation that would create a path to citizenship for the some 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally.
According to organizers of the hunger strike, which includes CASA in Action and America’s Voice, as well as various religious and union groups, hunger strike protests will begin in other cities including Omaha, NE, and Phoenix.
Dubbed “Fast for Families,” the hunger strike is marketed as a 40-day protest, hoping to pressure Congress to pass legislation before the end of the year.
“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,” organizers said.
Among the strikers is Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which is thought to be the largest Christian Hispanic organization in the U.S., representing more than 40,000 churches. Rodriguez and Eliseo Medina, the former secretary treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said they plan to participate in the hunger strike until a medical professional discourages them from doing so.
Another well-known protester is Sister Simone Campbell, who organized the “Nuns on the Bus” national tour this past summer, which was an effort to push for immigration reform. Campbell said she decided to participate in the strike because she met many undocumented immigrants over the summer who said they were afraid they were going to be deported and separated from their families.
“Tearing people apart is not who we are as a nation,” Campbell said. “It is wrong and it must be stopped.”
Although some participants have gone into the protest pledging to fast for 40 days or until medical professionals encourage them to eat, some say they plan to strike as long as they need to in order to bring attention to the issue.
Monica Carrizo, who is from Argentina, has lived in the U.S. illegally for the past 13 years. She said she is participating in the hunger strike because the “strength and enthusiasm behind getting this reform done won’t allow us to stay home,” even though the temperature outside has plummeted and severe weather has affected some protesters.
Carrizo said she is “desperate” for immigration reform and plans to continue her hunger strike until legislation for immigration reform is approved.
Many of Carrizo’s fellow hunger-strikers agree with her that the U.S. can’t delay immigration reform any longer, and in a statement explained that they “refuse to dwell on the frustrations of ‘wait.’
“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.”
Although Carrizo is hopeful immigration reform will happen sometime this year, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, John Boehner, said last week that reforms to the nation’s immigration law will not be debated until 2014.
Legislative efforts to reform immigration
Despite the Senate passing a piece of legislation this past June that reformed current U.S. immigration policy, efforts to pass similar legislation in the House have been slow since many House Republicans say they prefer to reform immigration “piece-by-piece.”
Despite several immigration bills being approved by the House Judiciary Committee, none have been brought to the House floor for a vote.
Alvin Herring, director of training for PICO National Network, said that while immigration reform is close, “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.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield, Calif., whom the LA Times called the third most powerful GOP member of the House, has reportedly been asked by immigrant and labor groups for months when the House will take up immigration legislation.
McCarthy has repeatedly said there will be no legislation this year, and says he won’t support a single comprehensive immigration bill like the Senate passed, since he doesn’t want to allow those who entered the country illegally to be able to apply for citizenship.
Immigration reform advocates say there is enough support in the House, including from GOP members, to pass a bill, and they blame Boehner for failing to take action and opting to not bring any immigration bill to the floor for a vote.