Hunger Strikers to John Kline: Pass Immigration Reform NOW!

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Hunger strikers from “Fast for Families” stood on the steps of the State Capitol Friday (March 14) as part of a national tour to urge Congress to support immigration reform legislation. Calling on GOP Rep. John Kline to help persuade Speaker of the House John Boehner to allow the Senate immigration reform bill to be voted on in the House, the hunger strikers stood with local politicians, community leaders and activists to push for change.

According to Rudy Lopez, who (along with the other hunger strikers), didn’t eat for 22 days last Fall in the nation’s Capital, the hunger strike was aimed at lifting up the urgency of immigration reform. Right now, the majority of Americans support immigration reform, according to Lopez. “If a vote were called, it would pass the House,” he said. However, Boehner has refused to bring the issue to a vote, so the activists hope to persuade other members of Congress to “impress Boehner to take action,” he said.

Though recent executive actions by President Obama are encouraging, Lopez said they aren’t complete and are only temporary. “If Congress doesn’t act, the President has a responsibility to act,” he said. At the same time, “We’d like Congress to act comprehensively.”

According to Lopez, Boehner has talked about wanting to take immigration step by step, “but every step-by-step process starts with the first step,” Lopez said.

Though the immigration reform bill that the Senate passed last year “is not a perfect bill,” according to Lopez, “it’s a good start.” It has some important things in it — such as legalization for some 11 million undocumented immigrants and pathways to citizenship. And it also looks at the future flow of the visa count and “how we are distributing those in a way that allows people to come here,” Lopez said. Still, immigration activists are wary of some of the assurances in the bill regarding homeland security. “We don’t want militarization of the (Mexican) border,” said Lopez.

Lopez called the experience of fasting for 22 days “an amazing experience.” Though his body weakened, his spirit grew stronger. The hunger strikers were checked by a doctor each day, and took a whole week to recover, eating only baby food for three days after the fast was over. “It was quite a moving and transformative experience,” he said.

Now Fast for Families is traveling the country, visiting 75 Congressional districts in 32 states, carrying “a message of action and action now,” Lopez said. Besides meeting with lawmakers, Fast For Families has also been meeting with community groups. In Minneapolis, they met with community members at Waite House to discuss next steps. “It isn’t a publicity tour only,” said Lopez. “It’s setting up a larger strategy.”

During the press conference on the steps of Minnesota’s Capitol, Jon Keller, from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said that Minnesota has been extremely supportive of immigration reform, and the business community in particular has been putting weight behind the issues. Last week, 600 businesses, including giants like Land O’Lakes and Cargill, wrote to Congress supporting immigration reform.

State Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan), said the Fast For Families group is drawing attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants. The immigrant community, Carlson said, “create jobs and opportunities for all of us. Just look when you’re driving down University Avenue, and see the diversity of businesses,” he said.

Dae Joon (DJ) Yoon, one of the hunger strikers, said he participated in the action because of the “moral crisis” Americans now face in regard to immigrants without documentation, particularly for children who are separated from their parents. “This is a crisis,” he said. “People are suffering.”

At the same time, the good news is that because of the community’s hard work, “the majority of Americans support immigration reform,” Joon said.

The Fast for Families team was also joined by local advocates pushing for immigration reform, including Karen Valez, who lives in Kline’s district and has been granted deferred action under Obama’s new policy. Valez said she dreams to enlist in the Navy, but can’t because of her current DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status. “There are thousands of young Americans waiting for the chance to serve,” she said.

The last to speak at the press conference was immigration activist Rev. John Gutterman, who said that our nation’s immigration system is “failing to live up to the standards of human decency.” He called on Representative Kline to “exercise a different kind of bravery,” he said.

“We need John Kline to hear the people’s cries.”

Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based journalist. She's a regular contributor to The UpTake, and also contributes to TC Daily Planet and City Pages. Her work can also be found at mnartists, VitaMN, Classical MPR and in other local publications.

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