Stay Hungry: Mass Movement for Immigration Reform

Fast for Families press conference, where groups such as NAKASEC, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, and the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum supported the action. Pictured: Sang Hyun Jung and Dae Joong "DJ" Yoon. Photo by Soyun Park.

After 22 continuous days of fasting, the four primary leaders of the Fast for Families Immigration Action, Eliseo Medina of SEIU, Dae Joong Yoon of NAKASEC, Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota and Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, have ended their fast today. They had abstained from all food since November 12, and vowed to fast until they could no longer physically do so.

Today, the four held a press conference to pass on their fast to seven activists (including Dolores Huerta, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Chiara Taylor of the Dream Defenders), as well as to hundreds of supporters fasting in solidarity. Some of the activists will hand off the fast day by day.

The #Fast4Families action took place at a tent set up on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Activists fasted day and night, abstaining from all food to move Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. More specifically, they are pushing House Speaker John Boehner and Republican House leadership to cease Congressional inaction and bring a vote on reform to the House floor.

At the beginning of the fast, Yoon stated, “I’ve joined the fast to urge leaders in the House of Representatives to end people’s suffering and the pain of family separation. Children are going to bed crying and missing their mothers who have been deported.”

The United States’ deportation numbers in the last few years also demonstrate the need for reform, with 400,000 undocumented immigrants deported in 2012 and over two million to date, more than any in the nation’s history. In a recent two year period, 23% of all deportations were issued for parents with U.S. citizen children and about 5,100 children in 22 states have lost parents to deportation, according to the Applied Research Center. Some 15,000 more face similar threats in the next five years.

The Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (S.744) aims to provide a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Though many activist organizations feel that the proposed bill is not perfect, due to it’s increasing border militarization and putting restrictions on sibling visas, many see it as a step in the right direction.

The activists in D.C. are joined by supporters from around the country who are also fasting in a show of solidarity. Miriam Yeung, the Executive Director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), fasted alongside the activists on December 1st.  “I am fasting because I believe that the fight for immigration policy reform is the fight for the soul of our country. We the people have to choose whether we will tolerate the idea of families being separated on a daily basis,” said Yeung.

Like Yeung, activists around the country will be continuing the fast. At least 180 advocates from 33 AAPI groups have committed to take part in 24 hour solidarity fasts over the next two weeks. Approximately 500 members of AAPI churches will also participate in solidarity fasts, including congregants of the Los Angeles Dong San Church, and the International GalBoRi Church in Fairfax, Virginia. L.A.-based organization Korean Resource Center is also planning a day of action and fast on Dec. 3.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) has stated, “I stand with our Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders who are fasting to reunite families and reform our broken immigration system,” Chu said. “They are a constant reminder of what is at stake and how much this community is willing to sacrifice. We’ve waited long enough. The time for comprehensive immigration reform is now, so let’s get this done.”

“We support these fasters who are sacrificing their physical comfort and showing our collective dedication to take action in support of immigration reform,” said Gregory Cendana, executive director of APALA.

Just two weeks ago, President Obama referred to the fasters when he spoke to a crowd of activists in San Francisco on Asian Pacific Islanders and immigration reform — and visited the encampment last week with the First Lady. The Obamas praised organizers Eliseo Medina and Dae Joong Yoon and thanked “all of the fasters for their sacrifice and dedication, and told them that the country is behind them on immigration reform,” according to a White House statement.

The path to reform is still unclear, but these activists have taken a bold step to bring attention to an issue that is impacting millions of people throughout the nation. They have ignited and inspired an action that has spread throughout the country, as thousands will carry on the fast initiated by these activists.

Just this morning, SEIU Texas tweeted, “we join the more than 5,000 fasters around the country who are calling to an end to injustice”. From four to 5,000 fasters, the action has shown no sign of subsiding — hopefully until legislative action takes place to push immigration reform forward.

Until Congress takes action on comprehensive immigration reform, the Fast for Families activists will continue their movement of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance. If you are hungry for justice for immigrants, join the movement here