WASHINGTON, D.C. — As a majority of Americans will feast with their families this week, three core immigration activists began their fifteenth day of fasting on Tuesday to bring attention to 11.7 million undocumented immigrants, some of whom will be unable to spend time with their families due to the broken immigration system. During a press conference held by the fasters inside a tent on the National Mall, advocates called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bring an immigration reform bill to a vote.
The activists are also calling on Americans to fast in solidarity from December 1st to 3rd as a way to put pressure on House leadership to vote on reform.
Eliseo Medina, Service Employees International Union International Secretary-Treasurer, is one of the three core fasters who have each lost nearly 20 pounds since beginning their fast.
“Today is the 15th day that we have fasted and prayed for an end to the constantly unfolding human tragedy caused by our country’s broken immigration system,” Medina said. “For us, this will be the first time that we have been away from our families, during this holiday and instead we will be celebrating Thanksgiving on the Mall, drinking only water instead of eating turkey and watching a football game. We do so because we feel compelled to help mend a broken and inhumane immigration system that is bringing so much pain and suffering to our communities and to our nation.”
The other two core fasters are National Korean American Service & Education Consortium Dae Joong Yoon and undocumented 23 year old activist Cristian Avila.
When asked how he felt on Tuesday compared to how he felt on the first day of his fast, Yoon was more determined.
“We have a month left. We still have time.” Yoon said to ThinkProgress. “We will fast and pray for Speaker Boehner so that he can really open up his eyes and open up his ears and then see that this is not an issue about politics or policy. It’s about families … In the past 15 days we have had many lawmakers [drop by] because they know that we have a crisis.”
Cristian, an undocumented youth who was granted temporary legal presence through a presidential initiative called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, is likewise focused, “The point is just to keep the pressure until Congress decides to act, whether we’re here in the tent or whether we’re doing something else, we’re going to keep going … until my body gives out.”
Over 4,000 people nationwide have already fasted in solidarity with the movement organized by the pro-immigration group, Fast for Families. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) fasted for one day in solidarity last Thursday, while former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) also fasted in solidarity on Tuesday. Like many others, Perriello, now the CEO at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, felt compelled to fast because of the “moral urgency” of a broken immigration system.
“People have such an anemic sense of what is possible … it’s bold actions like this that wake us back up,” Perriello said. “It’s a gift to those of us, to see this kind of sacrifice that reminds us of the human cost and the moral dimension … we remember just how serious these challenges are to these families who have gone years, decades separated from their families, living in the shadows, living with no rights, living in fear of employers because there isn’t a system of redress. This is a great moment in which this city has been awoken back to the idea that this is not impossible, but this is inevitable. And this movement will not go away.”
The movement has certainly caught the attention of several White House officials, including President Barack Obama (D) who acknowledged the fast during a speech about immigration reform in San Francisco on Monday. Obama said, “I want to say to Eliseo Medina … we hear you. We’re with you. The whole country hears you.” First Lady Michelle Obama also tweeted, “I’m thinking of the brave #Fast4Families immigration reform advocates. We’re with you.”
Just last Friday, Vice President Joe Biden (D) stopped by the tent to tell the fasters, “We will win this. As my father always says, come hell or high water.”
Whether the movement has caught the attention of Boehner remains to be seen. When the fasters tried to meet with Boehner during their second week of fasting, they were shut out. Still Yoon remains hopeful, “We delivered the letter … I believe that he will respond to our letter so hopefully we can meet with him and we can talk and find some way to work together.”