12/17/2013 11:10 am ET Updated Sep 17, 2014

The Time for Immigration Reform Is Now

Earlier this month on the National Mall, five courageous individuals were huddled in a tent fasting from food and drink to call attention to the urgent need for immigration reform. These advocates joined together to push forward their effort "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," which is drawing nationwide attention.

I was honored to meet with these fasters, and was quite moved to hear their personal stories. One of them, my friend and SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, said, "I know that going without food will not be easy and I know that I will suffer physical hunger. But there is a deeper hunger within me, a hunger for an end to a system that creates such misery among those who come here to escape poverty and violence in search of the American dream."

Another faster, Dae Joong Yoon, the executive director of the National Korean-American Service and Education Consortium, said he knows firsthand the pain of family separation. He came to the United States as a teenager with his family, but was separated from his older brother for four years. He knows the heartache that many feel because the current immigration system does not allow families to be reunited.

Both Eliseo and Dae Joong ended their fast on December 3 after 21 days. New fasters then took over, including my colleagues Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), and several religious leaders.

Each of these individuals has struggled and sacrificed for this common cause, and it is up to all of us in Congress to hear their cry and reform a broken immigration system. This nation has 11 million undocumented immigrants that need to come out of the shadows and be given a pathway to citizenship. I stand with them. We must find a way to keep families together, and increase the flow of high skilled visas so that our economy can be as strong as possible.

More than two-thirds of Americans want and expect a comprehensive fix to our broken system. Just this past summer, the Senate passed a historic bipartisan immigration bill by a vote of 68 to 32. As the Immigration Taskforce Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific-American Caucus, I will continue to ensure that our nation is truly inclusive and remains a place of opportunity for all. I have met with many immigration leaders and constituents to hear their concerns and share the approach to fix our broken system.

Each person who dares to escape poverty and persecution to come to this great country - and sometimes risk his or her life in doing so -should be treated with dignity and respect. America is a nation of immigrants, and has always welcomed people from far and wide. We must continue to do so.

Immigration is about families. Immigration is about building a stronger community, society, and economy. The momentum is building, and we can no longer afford not to act. The time for immigration reform is now.