Immigration activists occupy 200 congressional offices

Fast for Families ended on a high note when 1,500 supporters including union members and leaders entered the US Capitol and occupied 200 congressional offices to tell departing members of Congress that immigration reform and a path to citizenship must be at the top of their agenda when Congress reconvenes in January.

The fast began on November 12 when labor leader Eliseo Medina of SEIU and human rights and immigration reform leaders Dae Joong Yoon of NAKASEC,  Cristian Avila of  Mi Famila Vota, and  Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners led a group that set up camp at the steps of the Capitol and began fasting to call attention to the urgent need for immigration reform.

The fast ended on December 12 with a rally at the Capitol.

“We fast not out of anger, but out of faith, hope, and love,” said Medina at the rally. “We fast out of hope that we can touch the heart of (House) Speaker (John) Boehner so that he can reflect on the tragedy and the needless suffering and that he should act on his duty of a legislator and a Christian by allowing a vote on immigration reform.”

After the rally, fasters and their supporters entered the Capitol, sang the US Civil Rights movement theme song “We Shall Overcome,” and then split up into groups that visited and stayed in offices of Congress members who needed to hear their message.

Because of US immigration laws, more than 11 million  immigrants without  immigration documents are forced to live in the shadows of society even though their labor is essential to the US economy.

This shadowy existence and the danger that they can be arrested and held for deportation without warning makes them easily exploited, which in turn drives down wages for all workers.

“Reforming immigration will help protect all workers from exploitation and unfair competition,” read a statement of support by the United Autoworkers. “Without a pathway to citizenship, millions of workers are forced into a shadow economy and exploited by unscrupulous employers. When all workers are on equal footing, unscrupulous employers will not easily be able to pit one group of workers against another, driving down wages.”

Labor leaders including Larry Cohen president of CWA, Bob King, president of UAW, Mary Sue Henry, president of SEIU, and Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, fasted for 24 hours to show their support for immigration reform.

“Every day Congress kicks the can down the road and fails to address our broken immigration system, another husband is separated from his wife, another mother or father is separated from their children, another hardworking, aspiring American is detained and deported,” said  SEIU’s Henry.

During the monthlong fast, Fast for Farmilies drew support from a wide range of progressive groups.

“There’s no excuse for forcing millions of people to live outside the prevailing currents of our society, where they are frequently exploited and where they often suffer the worst effects of environmental pollution,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

“The men and women fasting are absolutely right: it is past time for the House of Representatives to take up comprehensive immigration reform,” said Interim NAACP President and CEO Lorraine C. Miller. “These activists are bravely shining a spotlight on the pain caused by our nation’s broken immigration system. This is not just a brown issue or a black issue – it is an American issue and a matter of human rights.  We must heed their calls and pass commonsense immigration reform now.”

” (We) stand in solidarity with this united family (of fasters for immigration reform), for the values that make our country a beacon for all who seek a life free from oppression,” said Arcelia Hurtado and Samantha Ames of the National Center for Lesbian Rights who fasted for five days in solidarity.

As the fast was ending, Fast for Families issued a statement that concluded:

“Our commitment to act, fast, and pray does not end today. We are more determined than ever to make commonsense immigration reform a reality. It is no longer a matter of IF reform will pass, it is a matter of WHEN. Until that time, we will not stop and we will not tire. We will never give up until 11 million immigrants have a path to citizenship.”

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