Immigration Reform: It Ain't Over Until God Says It's Done

An ornament hanging on the Fast for Families tree. Photo: Juliet Vedral/Sojourners

Saying an opening prayer at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service on Wednesday, in Washington, D.C. was both an honor and a blessing for me. The theme of the homily, by my good friend Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, was “it ain’t over until God says it’s done.”

I sat there listening to those words from an African American gospel hymn in the midst of my own circumstance of being on the ninth day of a water-only fast for comprehensive immigration reform. In my weakened condition, I was grateful that I had done the opening prayer and wouldn’t have to do the closing prayer! But fasting focuses you and it made me consider how Nelson Mandela would feel about a broken immigration system that is shattering the lives of 11 million immigrants, separating parents from children, and undermining the best values of our nation.

In our nightly meeting at what is now a packed fasting tent, I could imagine Nelson Mandela there with us, telling us to never give up until we win this victory for so many vulnerable people reminding us, "it ain’t over until God says it’s done." Or, as he would tell cynical pundits and politicians, “it is always impossible until it is done.” Today, following a procession from the Capitol which will now include many members of Congress, we will go to that tent and proclaim that immigration reform is not over, and we won’t give up until it’s done.

Fasting for Families and Immigration Reform

A Fast 4 Families cross, ribbon and button hang around the neck of each faster for immigration Photo courtesy Fast for Families.

To join Jim Wallis in prayer and fasting, click here.

I was grateful to be at the beginning of the Fast for Families on November 12. Courageous leaders from many communities were making an incredible sacrifice to remind our leaders what is really at stake in the fight for immigration reform. It was an honor to commission the core fasters, such as my Sojourners’ colleague Lisa Sharon Harper and Eliseo Medina, a veteran organizer and a disciple of Cesar Chavez, by placing crosses around their necks as they began abstaining from food. 

After 22 days, the core fasters had grown weak, nearing the point of medical danger. When they decided to pass the fast to a new group, I was humbled to join the effort this way. On Tuesday, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, I received the cross from Eliseo that I had given to him three weeks before.  

At Tuesday’s ceremony, each of us shared why we were committing to this discipline and willing to subsist only on water for various lengths of time. 

Fast for Families: Voters in Steve King’s District Thank Immigration Fasters

A thank you and encouraging note to the fasters with #Fast4Families by a resident of Steve King's district in Iowa

As the least productive Congress in history begins to wind down its first legislative session, immigration reform is coming to a boil.

It’s already been 160 days since the Senate passed its immigration bill and the House already has 191 co-sponsors on its bipartisan bill. Still, House Republicans have failed to take the next step and have only voted on one immigration provision so far this year — Steve King’s (R-Iowa) amendment to defund DACA and deport DREAMers.

And with King (most famous for saying young immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes” from lifting 75 pound bags of drugs across the border) at the helm for Republicans on immigration, it’s no wonder that they’re getting nowhere on immigration.

But the tragic irony of all of this is that King’s own constituents (myself included) overwhelmingly support immigration reform. Recent polling by The American Action Network, a conservative outside group, shows that 79 percent of voters in his district support the tenets in the Senate Gang of Eight bill. Despite that popularity, King and his shrinking list of allies in the House have kept Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) from addressing the moral crisis afflicting millions of workers, children, mothers, and fathers.

Activists End Immigration fast as Thousands of Others Take up the Cause

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo with the fasters. Photo via RNS, courtesy Fast for Families

Sapped by three weeks of a water-only diet, three activists for immigration reform ended their fasts Tuesday 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.

Feast with Your Family this Thanksgiving; Then Fast with Us Next Week -- for Families in Great Distress

Mementos in the fasting tent in remembrance of those who have come before us. Photo: Sojourners/Brandon Hook

The debate about immigration reform has been very productive in America over these past several years. And that debate has been won — by those who favor a common sense agenda for reform.

Two out of every three Americans now favor fixing our broken immigration system — two out of three! According to a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute, 65 percent of Americans say that the U.S. immigration system is either completely or mostly broken. That same report found that 63 percent of Americans favor immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship, crossing party and religious lines. 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents, and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship.

However, a minority of lawmakers — almost all white legislators in artificially gerrymandered white Congressional districts — is blocking a democratic vote on immigration reform. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill to reform the immigration system; written and forged by an impressive coalition of Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. And if a similar bill was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, it would also pass.

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.

Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship

Lisa Sharon Harper speaks at the opening of Fast for Families. Photo Brandon Hook/Sojourners

(Editors Note: Faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," Nov. 12, taking place on the National Mall. Leaders and immigrant members of the community are fasting every day and night, abstaining from all food — except water — to move the hearts of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This post is composed of updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the fast.)

Eleven national leaders marked this as the first day of a 30-day rolling fast for families — a call for immigration reform and a path to citizenship. The fasters and other leaders of the civil rights movement, including Julian Bond (civil rights veteran), Rev. Jim Wallis (Sojourners) and Wade Henderson (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights), walked into that tent and behind the podium.

One after another, the fasters stood before the podium — Sister Simone Campbell, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon—and offered testimony. This is why we are fasting. We are fasting because we cannot wait any longer. We are fasting because we stand with the 11 million people and their families who cannot wait for congress to get itself together for the pain and suffering in their families to end. We are fasting because whether we are immigrants who came here voluntarily in the last century or our ancestors were brought here in chains 200 years ago, we are fasting America a better place for all.

Heat Poses Challenge to Muslims Fasting During Ramadan

Photo by Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune

Sharifa Al-Qaaydeh and her kids walk around their home Wednesday May 4, 2011. Photo by Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY — Every day. For a month. From sunup to sundown. No food. No water.

No sweat?

No, plenty of sweat, especially this year.

With Utahns baking under energy-sapping, forehead-dripping, water-chugging temperatures, the state’s Muslims are swearing off that liquid life force during the heat of the day — and the morning, and the evening.

The annual 30-day fast known as Ramadan, one of Islam’s five pillars, began Tuesday and requires that believers forgo food and drink. At this time of year, that means 15 hours of parched throats and unquenched thirst.