Christians fast for US immigration reform


On November 13, John Bohner made an announcement that has essentially killed any hope of American immigration reform for the foreseeable future.

In his role as Speaker of the currently Republican controlled House of Representatives, he's announced that he will not allow any of the immigration reform bills that have been passed through the House to be part of a "congressional conference" or legislative negotiation with the Democrat controlled Senate. "We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill," he said to reporters.

This means Mr Bohner is essentially killing any possibility that the Senate's reform bill, which includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers (that many Republicans describe as an 'amnesty' that will harm American jobseekers), will be in any way merged with the more modest and piecemeal Republican bills (which include increased border security and the Kids act, where citizenship is offered to children who came to the US illegally because their parents brought them here). Without some kind of merger or compromise between the sides, neither sets of reforms will be passed, meaning that all immigration reform has essentially ground to a halt. This is something that many American Christians will not stand for.

Dr Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference released the following statement in response to Mr Bohner's speech.

"I am extremely disappointed in today's comments that immigration reform will not move forward this year, but I am committed now more than ever to this cause and will do everything in my power to ignite an unprecedented prophetic activism movement to force the hand of our leaders to remain steadfast in passing comprehensive immigration reform. Reform is necessary to save 11 million lives and heal broken communities across this country."

To help move this issue along, the NHCLC was to host what it called a "multi-cultural Justice Summit" in Arlington, Virginia, just within the Washington DC metropolitan area last week. Immigration reform was to be top of the agenda.

President Obama has already met with religious leaders at the White House, and with business leaders before that. He has said that he wants to make it as "easy" for House Republicans as possible, adding: "We are not looking for a political win."

Other Christians and Labour leaders have taken their fight, and their stomachs, to the street, with a gathering of five activists in a tent in front of Capitol hill, committing to fast until immigration reform is passed. In this, they are joining with Dr Rodriguez who began his 40 day fast on November 5. The event has been called "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship" with some on a long term fast, while others participate for shorter periods.

"I know that there are going to be difficult days ahead of me, I know that going without food will not be easy and I know that I will suffer physical hunger," said Eliseo Medina from the Service Employees International Union. "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."

Reverend Jim Wallis, founder and editor of the Christian Progressive magazine "Sojourners" called believers to pray against the increasing polarisation and partisanship that has been ever more present in US politics in recent times. It is founded, so he argues, on self-interest and a refusal to properly understand the other.

"Sometimes you can organise and march and struggle and work as hard as you can, and sometimes all you can do finally is pray for a miracle," Wallis said. "We're here to pray for a miracle."

Reverend Barbara Williams Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network said: "We're fasting in the spirit of hope … We know that Martin Luther King Jr, were he here today, would be standing here with us. Cesar Chavez would be standing with us and Gandhi would be standing with us. We think that's enough power to change the Congress."

Many believe that John Bohner's decision has ultimately doomed immigration reform, and that unless it is reversed, it could be another nail in the coffin of the long term future of the Republican party. A majority of voters, both across the US broadly and in several key Republican leaning swing congressional districts, have polled in favour of comprehensive immigration reform.

Frank Sharry, the executive director of the conservative US television network "America's Voice" is on record as saying: "If Boehner kills off immigration reform, he's going to go down as the Speaker who helped kill off the GOP. If he doesn't promise to go to conference, he won't be able to get Democrats to vote for any immigration measures, and he won't be able to pass them with just Republican votes. He's painting himself into a corner with procedural concessions to the far right, where failure is the only possible outcome. If he keeps to this, he's dooming reform. Let's hope he wants a legacy that includes growing the economy and saving his party."

One faster, Dae Joong Yoon, executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, said he deeply understands the pain of legally mandated family separation. When his family immigrated to the US when he was 18, he was separated from his elder brother for four years. Though he knows he will miss his own children during the fast, he remains steadfast in his determination to fight for change. "…I began to think about millions of families who are separated from their loved ones," Yoon said. "This is a hard time, which requires our action."