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Migrant Activists Enter 22nd Day of Dangerous Fast, While Legislators Drag Their Feet

In DC, immigrant activists fast and interject questions during Obama's immigration and health care event.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Ryan Rodrick Beiler

 

On Tuesday, activists fasting for the 22nd day on the National Mall announced that they would expand efforts by passing their fast to a new group of prominent leaders as activists faced dire health consequences. House Republicans weren’t there. Instead, they were holding a two-hour committee hearing a few blocks away on whether President Barack Obama (D) has “encroach[ed] into Congress’ sphere of power” on immigration reform.

The event entitled “The President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws” covered policy decisions made by the Obama administration on health care and immigration, decisions that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) says exceed the scope of Obama’s executive power. Goodlatte said, “President Obama circumvents Congress when he doesn’t get his way. For instance, while Congress is currently debating how to reform our immigration laws, the President effectively enacted the Dream Act himself by ordering immigration officials to stop enforcing immigration laws against certain unlawful immigrants.”

The hearing was briefly interrupted by immigration activists who raised their hands to pray for immigration reform and to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Those protestors were escorted out of the room.

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) was one of many House Democrats to dismiss the committee hearing. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) called the hearing “pure political theater” saying that the Committee should hold a hearing on why House Republicans won’t vote on immigration, while Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) asked, “Can anyone recall the last time we had a substantive immigration reform hearing?”

Meanwhile, the immigration reform organization “Fast for Families” held a press conference to announce that four core fasters would break their fast by passing their fasting duties to other immigration activists and faith leaders. Eliseo Medina fasted for 22 days and passed his fast to Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA). Kennedy spoke in both Spanish and English saying that he felt honored to be there and hoped to “stay in the fight with you.” Kennedy embraced Medina before taking over the fast, in a move reminiscent to Kennedy’s grandfather, Robert, when he embraced Cesar Chavez as he broke his fast on behalf of domestic workers. Kennedy will “ pass along the fast” to Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) on Wednesday. Other House Democrats present at the conference included Reps. Gutierrez (D-IL), Joe Garcia (D-FL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Keith Ellison (D-MN).

In the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, 66 percent of respondents—including 57 percent of Republicans—said that they wanted lawmakers to approve immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and tighter border security. Yet, the only immigration bill that the House has voted and passed this year was an amendment that defunds the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. House Republican leaders have otherwise claimed that there isn’t enough time during the 2013 congressional calendar to pass an immigration bill that includes legalization, with House Republicans making up excuse after excuse.

Esther Yu-Hsi Lee is an Immigration Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle East Studies and a M.A. in Psychology from New York University. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Esther is passionate about immigration issues from all sides of the debate. She is originally from Los Angeles, CA.