December 6, 2013

​Activists End Immigration Fast

BY LAUREN MARKOE ©2013 Religion News Service

Sapped by three weeks of a water-only diet, three
activists for immigration reform ended their fasts December 3 with a morsel of
bread blessed by a priest and “passed the fast on” to others who hope to keep
attention focused on the issue.

“You have truly put your faith in action,” said
retired Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, one in a small crowd of political
and clerical dignitaries who came to the National Mall to praise those who have
gone without food in a bid to pressure Republican House leaders to pass an
immigration reform bill.

Also seated alongside the quiet and wan fasters:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; the Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Rep. John Lewis,
D-Ga., and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In recent weeks, the fasters have attracted
high-profile visitors, including President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and
Vice President Joe Biden, to the heated tents where the fasters have been
living on the National Mall.

Now the “Fast for Families,” organized by a broad
coalition of labor, immigrant and Christian groups enters a new phase as the
original group of fasters begin to recover from the physical ordeal and a
larger group — many of them political and pastoral celebrities — take up the

It’s also a subtle acknowledgment that the
movement is shifting into low gear for a long-term fight that will take more
than four hunger strikers to overcome.

One by one, hand-fashioned wood crosses were
removed from the necks of the initial fasters and placed around the necks of
those who had just begun to deny themselves food. Unlike the fasters who lived
in a tent without food for three weeks, most of the new fasters will keep their
day jobs and decide for themselves what form the fast will take.

Some involved in the weeks-old movement said they
were surprised that it drew so much interest—from the president to tourists
visiting the capital. But others said that it is a natural response to the
heartache suffered by immigrant families separated from loved ones, living in
the shadow of the law and dying along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Fasting is an effective response to a
dysfunctional government that refuses to help immigrants in need, said the Rev.
Jim Wallis, founder of the progressive Christian group Sojourners, who began to
fast Tuesday but does not know for how long he will go without food.

“Fasting is a weapon,” he said. “It is a weapon
of spiritual warfare.”

Few of the new fasters plan or are expected to
last as long as activists Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon and Cristian Avila, who
went 22 days without food, or Lisa Sharon Harper, who drank only juice. All
were checked by doctors, who found they lost an average of 20 pounds
each. According to “Fast For Families” organizers, more than 3,000 people
nationwide have pledged to fast for at least a day in the name of immigration

Immigration reform stalled in Congress after the
Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June. House Speaker
John Boehner has refused to put the issue on the House’s schedule this year,
and many activists worry that action is less likely next year as lawmakers set
their sights on the midterm elections.

King likened the fasting movement to the boycott
of segregated buses that kicked off the civil rights movement in 1955.

“Let’s continue to fast together,” she said,
invoking her father’s words, “and not get weary.”