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'Fast For Families' Grows As Advocates Starve For Immigration Reform

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President Barack Obama visited the immigration reform advocates taking part in the Fast for Families, including Eliseo Medina (right), on the National Mall in Washington on November 29. | NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Four immigration activists who had gone without food for 22 days broke their fast on Tuesday, passing the effort onto others as they continue to seek a vote on immigration reform in the House.

Reverend Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition is one of those now beginning the "Fast for Families."

"The reason we're here is because we believe we're going to win immigration reform," he said at a ceremony on the National Mall marking the handover. "How do I know we're going to win? Because there's a fierce urgency of now. We're turning over our plates in Advent because we're expecting a miracle. And people in faith, we believe in miracles."

The fast has gained high-profile support since it began on Nov. 12 with Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota and Lisa Sharon Harper of the Christian social justice group Sojourners.

It's been hard on the participants, all of whom have lost considerable weight. Harper drank chicken broth while the others consumed only water during the three-week period. Aided by activists who joined the fast for shorter periods, they have maintained a constant presence on the National Mall.

On Tuesday, the four passed crosses they'd worn around their necks to seven new fasters, including Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.). He will fast for 24 hours, then another member of Congress will take his place. Fifteen members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), attended the event to show their support.

Advocates are calling for an immediate vote on immigration reform, which is looking increasingly unlikely this year given the congressional schedule. The House is in session for only eight days before Jan. 7, including Tuesday.

"We have a broken immigration system, and we have a broken political system in this country," said Reverend Jim Wallis of Sojourners, another one of the seven beginning to fast. "Our politics have become dysfunctional, and there is evidence for that all around. Because of broken politics, we are seeing broken lives."

Immigration advocates are staging protests and fasts across the country to align with the "Fast for Families," including through "National Days to Act, Fast and Pray" this coming Sunday through next Tuesday. They will ramp up their efforts as those on the National Mall continue. In California, activists will "occupy" the district office of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) starting Wednesday until Dec. 13 to fast, while others will knock on doors to talk about immigration reform. The New York Immigration Coalition is fasting for 24 hours beginning Tuesday.

The "Fast for Families" activists have some key supporters in the administration: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited them on the National Mall Friday and Vice President Joe Biden met with the advocates the week before. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also made visits.

The fasters went to the House gallery Monday evening to be recognized by Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), the lead sponsor of a Democratic-led comprehensive immigration reform bill. Pelosi told reporters after Tuesday's event that she had talked to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about immigration reform, and repeated her call for the House to take up that bill. She said she is fasting "a day here and there" and shared some of the advice she's given the advocates.

"Make your point, but understand that some of these people in the building don't care what you do, because they're just not going to be moved," she said she told the fasters. "But let's hope that the speaker is moved, so he will bring the bill to the floor."

The advocates have called repeatedly for Boehner to meet with them, so far to no avail. Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., called out Boehner specifically in remarks at the ceremony Tuesday.

"To our brother Mr. Boehner, Representative Boehner, the best time is now," King said. "The right time is now, the correct time is now, and the only time is now."

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