A group of immigration activists holding a fast on the National Mall near the Capitol Building got a high-powered visit yesterday from Vice President Joseph Biden, who prayed with them and told them their efforts will help get an immigration bill passed in Congress.
“What you’re doing here is to bring attention to what’s morally right and attention to a community that is already American,” Biden said. “We will win this. As my father always says, come hell or high water.”
The three core fasters, Eliseo Medina, Cristian Avila, and Dae Joong Yoon, are entering their 11th day of the fast and say they will continue until they are medically advised to stop. They were joined yesterday at their “Fast for Families” tent by faith leaders and immigration activists trying to pressure House Republicans to advance immigration reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told reporters she remembered when labor leader Cesar Chavez met with Robert Kennedy after he had fasted for a number of weeks to advance workers’ rights. The fasters were also visited by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), the second House Republican to visit the fasters this past week. On Wednesday they were visited by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said he would fast for three days. Leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) have visited the fasters in previous days, while Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) fasted for one day in solidarity.
One of the fasters, Medina, studied at the feet of Chavez and for decades has been at the center of debates over immigrants’ rights. He has been a key force behind the embrace of immigrants by the labor movement, persuading labor leaders to see them as unauthorized foreign workers rather than shun them as job stealers.
Medina, 67, said he hopes his water-only fast will “touch the heart” of the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, and make him act on immigration.
Medina has lost 16 pounds and his sparsely bearded face after 11 days looks sunken and gray, according to the New York Times.
“Whatever little sacrifice I am making doesn’t compare with the sacrifice these immigrants made when they came to this country for a better life and find themselves living in the shadows and being exploited,” Medina said, clad in a brown sweatshirt with the slogan “Act. Fast.”
He spends his days in a padded lawn chair, fighting the hunger by praying, napping, plotting political strategy and receiving a parade of visitors.
But his efforts to touch the hearts of House Republicans is likely finding them closed off to the appeal to their humanity. Bitterly partisan House Republicans say an immigration overhaul is not on the agenda this year.
“I don’t think anybody in Congress is going to pay any attention to that,” said Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, an opponent of immigration reform. “There are plenty of Americans who are un- or underemployed. Those hungry Americans are going to look at these open-border left liberals going hungry, and they will have less sympathy, not more.”
While the Senate passed a broad immigration bill in June, it has seen no movement in a House preoccupied with budget fights and efforts to kill Obamacare.