#fast4families

Immigration Reform: No More Excuses

Eliseo Medina at the Fast4Families tent on the National Mall in December. via Fast for Families/ Flickr.com

As an immigrant who made the long journey from Zacatecas, Mexico, to the farmlands of California many times as a child, the Lenten story of Jesus’s wandering for 40 days in the desert has always resonated with me very deeply. And the Easter celebration that follows sustains my hope and resolve that the faith community’s long movement to reform our broken immigration system will succeed.

Late last year, I, along with several other immigration advocates and inspiring faith leaders, camped out in a tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to call attention to the moral crisis and human suffering caused by our broken immigration system. We asked ourselves: What are our faith, our words, and our history worth if not translated into action, sacrifice, and redemption?

So, for 30 days we fasted and prayed that leadership in the House of Representatives would follow the Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill. The power of prayer surrounded us as we were led in reflection on a daily basis by pastors who serve undocumented families, by immigrants who suffer under our unjust system, and by public officials who came to see our commitment as days without food turned into weeks.

Even though the House refused to act in 2013, we believe that our fast, and the support of thousands of solidarity fasters around the world, helped change the discussion about reform from one of dollars and cents to one about people and families. Our sacrifice and the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters will end in victory and redemption.

#Fast4Families -- Week 5

The Fast for Families bus continues its journey across the country getting closer to its final destination: Washington, D.C., on April 9. Fast for Families’ leader, Eliseo Medina was arrested in Miami on March 21 and released later that night. Medina was arrested at Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart’s Doral office while delivering a letter on immigration reform with constituents and immigrant rights advocates.

Continuing to advocate for fair and humane immigration reform, fasters pressed on into week five and made stops in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Fasters met with the staff members of Republican Rep. Mike Rogers in Lansing, Mich., to press for support.

“America has a proud heritage as a nation of immigrants, but our current immigration system is clearly broken ...” Rogers said in a statement. “I am ready to start small and work together to create meaningful bipartisan legislation, piece by piece.”

For One Great Prayer

Courtesy Fast for Families

Vice President Joe Biden visits the Fast for Families tent in November. Courtesy Fast for Families

I became a member of Young Koreans United (YKU), a Korean American grassroots group providing solidarity to the people’s movement for democracy, human rights, and reunification of Korea in 1986. YKU was instrumental in forming the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC); established 20 years ago to build a progressive Korean American voice on major civil rights issues. I joined the NAKASEC board a few years back. Throughout this time, I have tried to provide a clergy presence whenever I can to show that ending the suffering of immigrant families, including that of the 1 out of 7 undocumented Korean Americans, is also a concern of persons of faith.

#Fast4Families Embarks on National Bus Tour for Immigration Reform

Fast for Families/Flickr

Fasters prayers in front of Rep Ted Poe's office outside the bus near Houston, Texas. Fast for Families/Flickr

Building on the momentum from last year’s fast on the National Mall, the #Fast4Families campaign has entered into its next phase: a cross-country bus tour. Keeping with the theme “Act; Fast; and Pray until just immigration reform is achieved,” #Fast4 Families kicked off its national bus tour on Jan. 27 from California, where hundreds gathered in support.

The tour across America includes two buses heading through approximately 155 cities in more than 75 congressional districts on northern and southern routes. At each of these 100+ stops, fasters will engage with pro-reform advocates, including faith leaders, who are keenly aware of the moral crisis caused by our broken immigration system.

Religious Leaders' Near-Unanimous Support for Immigration Reform

Courtesy Jacob Lupfer

With Rev. Jim Wallis and our Georgetown students outside the #fast4families tent on the National Mall. Courtesy Jacob Lupfer

One of the most meaningful things I get to do in my work as a Ph.D. student in political science is assist Jim Wallis with a course he teaches at Georgetown every fall titled "Faith, Social Justice, and Public Life." Jim is well known as the founder and leader of Sojourners and as a lifelong advocate for social justice. Through lectures, discussions, and guest speakers, our students learn about how and why clergy and lay people of various religious backgrounds advocate for public policies as expressions of their faith commitments. This fall, the push for comprehensive immigration reform was one of the case studies we examined with our students.

I'm no expert in immigration policy. But, as a political scientist, I can offer an informed assessment about when, why, and how the House of Representatives will pass the reform in 2014. This will be the subject of a future post. For now, though, I want to highlight some distinctive features of the debate that I have noticed as an observer of religion in American politics. I do have a layman's interest in the theological justifications being offered in support of (and, perhaps surprisingly, against) comprehensive immigration reform. But for now, I will focus mostly on the politics.

Fast for Families: Joining the Spiritual Battle for Immigration Reform

Since Nov. 12, faith leaders have been fasting across from the capitol for immigration reform. Courtesy of Fast for Families

For the past three years immigration reform has taken a prominent role in my mind and heart, especially since the Latino college ministry I direct, InterVarsity Latino Fellowship (LaFe), has student members who are undocumented. I have heard stories from our InterVarsity students who have faced insurmountable financial difficulties in paying for college, the fear of being separated from their family members and deep depression and anxiety over the possibility of their own deportation.

It was three years ago at a national Latino Student Conference that I was first confronted with the great sorrow and pain that many of our Latino Dreamer students were carrying. I had one student who had worked very hard to earn an engineering degree but was completely overwhelmed with the sadness that he would not be able to work in his field because he did not have working papers. This young man, who had been a top leader in one of our InterVarsity chapters, had incredible leadership skills, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and great obedience in serving the needs of other students on his campus. He was a model InterVarsity student if there ever were one.

Yet, the sadness, fear and bitterness he expressed to me overwhelmed my own heart and made me realize I had to do more to help these dedicated and gifted students who were living without hope.  

Since then I have been arrested for the cause of immigration reform with other committed clergy in New York City. I have raised my voice loudly within my own ministry to make the known the academic and pastoral needs of our own undocumented student members. And now I believe it is time to do deeper spiritual battle through fasting and prayer.

At one point a desperate man whose son was possessed by a violent spirit approached Jesus; the man regularly tried to kill the boy by throwing him in fire or water. The man told Jesus he had already asked his disciples to heal the son but they didn’t have the power to do it. In his love for this father and his possessed son, Jesus healed the boy. Later when his disciples talked to him privately about why they weren’t able to take power over this demon, Jesus told them that this kind of demon could come out only by prayer and fasting.

 

Fast for Families: Fasting and Waiting for Immigration Reform in Advent

Neblys/Shutterstock

Connecting calls for immigration reform to Advent Neblys/Shutterstock

On the first day of Advent, I began to fast for immigration reform.

I’m not a recent immigrant or a political activist. But I’m a mother, a teacher, and a Christian living in Asheville, N.C., a community affected by our broken immigration system. And I was raised in a faith that tells me that this country should not have an invisible class of people or a justice system that tears apart families. That’s not justice to me. 

So Dec. 1-3, I joined the National Days to Act, Fast, and Pray in solidarity with those who have been fasting for three weeks in a tent on the National Mall. Their goal is to urge the House GOP, specifically U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to call for a vote on immigration reform. 

Fast for Families -- Remembering Our Bodies, the Land, and Community

Fast for Families/Flickr

Prayer vigil at the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform"/Fast for Families/Flickr

On Sunday, with lots of turkey, stuffing and pie still in the fridge, I joined the #Fast4families movement, abstaining from food and drink for a day in order to pray for immigration reform. At first, I hesitated because it wasn’t necessarily my ideal time for fasting — besides being Thanksgiving weekend, I was about to enter the last two weeks of my academic semester, the most mentally demanding and sleep-depriving time of my year.

Quickly, however, I realized that all the worries I had going into the fast came from my white, privileged, experience of the world. Because of my privilege, I could believe in the illusion that immigration reform does not affect me.

The more I thought about this, the more I concluded that my reasons for not fasting were pointing to the ugliness of my own privilege and participation in racism, for if we do not actively challenge racism, we affirm it. This is what Jesus was getting at in Matthew 12:30, when he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus does not call us to merely advocate, but asks us invest our whole lives.

My hesitancy to fast was also a reflection of Western spirituality, which privileges the mind over the body and knowledge over action. Before I knew about the fast, my inclination was to spend my day’s energy on academic work, ignoring the body I live in, as well as those bodies that suffer far more than I ever would under an oppressive immigration system.

Fast for Families: Day 18 — Fasting While Others Feast

Katherine Burgess/RNS

Prayer vigil at the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform" Katherine Burgess/RNS

I moved into the fasting tent Wednesday morning, Day 16 of my Thanksgiving Fast4Families. I’m now able to drink only water. Committed to fast as long as my body holds out.

The rain Wednesday mixed with snow pelted the tent from all sides. Sometimes the whole tent even swayed in the wind. The fasters sat in their chairs, some having just arrived, a few having lived in the same chair for 16 days now.

We’ve had multiple visitors; a Spanish language television station, a former senator’s top aide who is also the father of one of the fasters, another television station, and a crew of photographers that took our picture for a Thanksgiving Tweet. All that before 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

But the best part has been the fellowship and the discipline of silence.

It's Time to Fast and Pray

Brandon Hook/Sojourners

Jim Wallis speaks at the #Fast4Families press conference before the fast. Brandon Hook/Sojourners

(Editors Note: On Nov. 12, faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship,” taking place on the National Mall. The following remarks are from Jim's speech given at the event.)

Despite the overwhelming public support — among all political stripes — to fix our broken immigration system, Washington's utter political dysfunction is blocking change.

It is time to pray and fast for a change that now feels like a "miracle." And that's what we now pray for. Pray against the racial fears and messages that are being used against immigration reform. Pray for courage and character on all sides — for Republicans who believe in an inclusive party and nation to stand up to Republicans who want an exclusive party and nation and for Democrats not to use this as a political issue for their self-interest. Pray for political leaders to do what few of them do well — to put other people's needs, especially poor and vulnerable people's needs, ahead of their own political agendas.

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