Medina, other immigration reform fasters, step aside for reinforcements

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Saying their 22-day “fast for families” to demand Congress approve comprehensive immigration reform had gotten worldwide attention, former Service Employees Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina and his fasting colleagues ended their D.C. vigil by handing off the fast to a group of successors. 

The fast drew continued attention to the issue, and support from Democrats all the way up to President Obama, who visited the fasters in their tent at the foot of Capitol Hill on Dec. 1. But it did not budge the decision-makers it targeted: the anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic GOP majority in the U.S. House. 

Those lawmakers had no reaction whatsoever to the fast. And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who keeps comprehensive reform bottled up so his colleagues cannot vote on it, didn’t even reply to the fasters’ invitation to come and talk. 

Medina stepped down as SEIU’s secretary-treasurer several months ago to concentrate on convincing Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform.  That includes a 13-year-long path to eventual citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people, including 7.5 million undocumented workers, in the U.S. 

Comprehensive immigration reform is important to workers, both undocumented and native. That’s because venal, vicious and law-breaking employers exploit the undocumented through low pay, no pay, and denial of their rights.  When workers try to organize or stand up for themselves, the firms call in immigration agents to deport them. 

And those same companies also threaten native-born workers with firing – and replacement by the undocumented – unless the U.S.-born workers agree to wage cuts, benefit cuts, a reduced standard of living, and no organizing.  

Comprehensive reform, however, would let the undocumented apply for “blue cards” – a residence card – while they take English classes and satisfy other requirements, according to the comprehensive bill the Senate passed earlier.  And it would immediately bring the undocumented under U.S. labor law protection. 

Medina “handed over” his fast to Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., and the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners.  In a joint statement, Medina and his fellow fasters said “we fasted in the shadow of the Capitol to call attention to the human suffering caused by our broken immigration system.  We believe we have raised awareness about families being ripped apart by deportations, immigrants dying in the desert and millions of people living in fear every day.

“However, Speaker Boehner is not listening.  He has failed to act and move forward with immigration reform legislation.  Several times we invited the speaker to meet with us to discuss ways we can come together and fix a system that takes such a terrible human toll.  He has not responded.  We still hold hope that he will find it in his heart to make his words real when he said immigration reform is not absolutely dead.” 

The labor movement still strongly supports comprehensive reform and the fasters, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, speaking just before the ceremonial end to the fast, told the packed crowd outside the fast tent. 

“All of us coming together – faith leaders, labor, community leaders, young people – can win, will win and will get this legislation passed,” she declared. 

Medina and the other fasters, supported and escorted by their friends and colleagues – including SEIU President Mary Kay Henry – weakly walked to the center carpet behind the mike and sat patiently waiting for the symbolic end of their fast: Bread and liquids offered by two Catholic prelates, including Cardinal Emeritus Theodore McCarrick of D.C.  They then left, with their escorts, for a medical checkup. 

Photo: Weak after 22 days of fasting these immigration reform activists ended their own personal fasts yesterday but made way for replacements who will continue the vigil for passage by Congress of comprehensive immigration reform. From left to right, Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota, Dae Jung Yoon, with the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, and longtime labor leader Eliseo Medina, all of whom fasted for 22 days. Jacquelyn Martin/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.