Fasting for immigration: Will it move the GOP?

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama  visit the original fasters in their tent.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit the original fasters in their tent.

By Maricar CP Hampton

While much of America was feasting over Thanksgiving dinner, several undocumented immigrants were huddled in tents and feeding themselves only with water.

“Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform & Citizenship” is entering its fourth week with fasting immigrants eating very little and hoping to draw attention to the urgent need for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

“By fasting, we hope to follow the examples of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi to touch the compassion and sensibilities of our elected leaders,” the website, Fast for said, and “to address the moral crisis of an immigration system that fails to comport with our national values, our creeds and belief in justice.”

Erwin de Leon, an immigration policy researcher and writer was supportive but skeptical.

“While I support their efforts, I do not think this fast will sway House Republicans to act on immigration reform, much less a comprehensive bill with a pathway to citizenship,” he told The FilAm Metro D.C.

GOP congressmen, he added, “have not been swayed by the U.S. Chamber, the tech industry, evangelicals, and other advocates who want our immigration system fixed.” De Leon who visited the tent on its 10th day was not able to meet any of the fasters because “they were in a section off limits to the general public.”

The fast began on November 12 initiated by four immigrants Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota and Lisa Sharon Harper of the Christian social justice group Sojourners. It began to draw attention when, one by one, political leaders paid them a visit. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle visited the group at the National Mall, assuring them that there is still time this year for the House to pass legislation.

Previous visitors have included Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and feminist Gloria Steinem.

Last Tuesday, the original fasters broke their fast and handed it over to seven new fasters, including Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) who said he will fast for 24 hours before another member of Congress takes his place.

Gregory Cendana, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance said, “The House leadership needs to hear the fasters and others in solidarity across the country: We will not refrain from actions until they take a vote to improve the lives of all immigrants.”

Although none of the core fasters are Filipino, Cendana had a chance to visit the fasters as part of a press conference last November 22nd.

“I support these fasters who are sacrificing their physical comfort and showing our collective dedication to take action in support of immigration reform, “ he said.

This week, together with hundreds of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Cendana and his sister Jessica are planning to take part in solidarity fasts “to illustrate the united support of AAPI communities for a humane and inclusive immigration process.”

“I plan on going to visit the new fasters this week as I am participating in the solidarity fast on Thursday,” he told FilAm Metro D.C.

From December 1 -3 events have been organized throughout the country in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas to call for a nationwide fast.

“These GOP lawmakers are not influenced by polls which show that a majority of all Americans support immigration reform. They do not care how their recalcitrance further alienates voters of color, particularly Latinos and Asians, from their own party. These politicians are only concerned about their districts, their far-right constituents, and getting reelected,” De Leon stressed.

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