This week, Eliseo Medina–formerly of SEIU–along with two others broke his 22-day hunger strike with the #Fast4Families. Others, including a succession of Congressmembers, have been picking up the fast for immigration reform since then. Today, on our weekly Office Hours call, Eliseo spoke about how he’s been doing since breaking his fast, what he’s learned from the fast, and where he sees the immigration reform debate going. Below are his transcribed remarks:
I have just experienced the most inspirational and emotional time in a long, long time. When we began this fast on Nov. 12, we did it because we wanted to call attention to the moral crisis that is facing this country. We wanted to call attention to the fact that this broken immigration system is more than a debate about numbers or about policy issues. At its core, it’s about human beings, about the fact that 463 people died last year trying to cross the border to come to the United States, looking for the American Dream–and the fact that almost 2 million people have been deported.
Those are numbers, but every person who dies in the desert dies a lonely death. People may not know who they were, where they came from, what their hopes and dreams were. These are real human beings, who had dreams, who loved and were loved in turn, and now find themselves–their bones scattered in the desert–just because they wanted to have a better life. And we want to make sure that people know that’s the price of this broken immigration system. When you hear about families that are torn apart by deportation, about children who are left behind, and who–when they ask where their mommy or their daddy is–there’s no good answer. ‘When are they coming back?’ There’s nothing you can say to them. We wanted to make sure that in our country we had a debate about that.
The fast was difficult. We only drank water, and we fasted for 22 days. While it was difficult physically, what was more difficult was that every day we met with immigrant families who came to visit us in our tent, and we looked into their eyes and they talked to us about the suffering and the feelings they had about trying to do the right thing and finding themselves in a situation that they had no control over, and that created such difficulties for them and their families. And to us, that was the most difficult thing.
We were very gratified during the fast that we were visited by very powerful and important people. We were really gratified that President Obama and the First Lady and the Vice President came to visit us. We had visitors from all walks of life, and even Republican members of Congress came to visit us. We really appreciated those visits, it really helped us keep up our spirits and to keep us strong. But the stories that I remember the most were those families who came from Pennsylvania, who told us about a father who got picked up by ICE and arrested while he was taking his daughter to school, and about the children who were left behind. Those were the stories that stayed within us and drove a much deeper hunger than just simply for food.
And what also helped sustain us was that we received so much support not only from across the United States, but we had over 5,000 people sign up on the internet to fast with us; we had 2,000 Sisters of Mercy organize a 1-day fast throughout the United States; the Franciscans, organizing all of their churches and everybody who participated in the fast on Dec. 3. And all over this country, people have begun taking action in order to ensure that Mr. Boehner listen to us and understand that he has the unique power to put an end to this suffering by calling for a vote on immigration reform.
And today, I feel even more fortunate. Today is the 25th day of the fast. There are other people who have taken over for me and for DJ Yoon and Christian Avila, the original 3 fasters. And they have continued the fast at the foot of the Capitol. Even though the doors of Speaker Boehner’s office remain closed, we know he cannot keep them–or his eyes, or his heart–closed forever. We know that as long as there are so many deaths in the desert and so many families being torn apart, that it will be impossible to continue to ignore immigration reform. And all of the thousands and millions of people who have joined us in the struggle are not going to allow them to ignore this issue. Until the day that Speaker Boehner calls a vote, we’re going to continue praying, we’re going to continue marching, and we’re keep calling and lobbying. And we’re convinced that soon, God willing, there WILL be a vote on immigration reform, and we will have an immigration system that is worthy of this country, of this nation of immigrants.