CAPITOL HILL— A group of activists has been fasting in Washington for more than two weeks to pressure Speaker of the House John Boehner to allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. A landmark immigration bill has already been passed by the Senate by a wide margin, but House leaders say they are unlikely to take up the bill this year.
Those who are fasting have captured the attention of some members of Congress and of President Obama; several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus visited the hunger strikers to express solidarity.
Cristian Avila, from Arizona, said he is fasting because he lives in fear of his family being divided by deportation.
“Fortunately my brother, sister and I are privileged with a deferred action, but my parents are still undocumented. So every day that goes by is another day that I wonder if I am going to see my parents again, whether they are going to get picked up,” said Avila.
Democrat Ruben Hinojosa, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, wants the Republican majority in the House to act.
"There has been a lot of discussion about there not being any time left in the legislative calendar to do immigration reform, but that is not correct. The Speaker of the House has the power to bring it to the floor and to allow all 435 members of Congress to have a vote on it," said Hinojosa.
Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez had harsh words for House Speaker John Boehner.
"So you might dictate the schedule of the House of Representatives, but we dictate the movements of this fight and this struggle. And we will be consistent and persistent," declared Gutierrez.
Speaking in San Francisco, President Obama said immigration reform is long overdue, and expressed support for those who are fasting.
“Right now, I'm seeing brave advocates who have been fasting for two weeks in the shadow of the Capitol, sacrificing themselves in an effort to get Congress to act,” said Obama.
At that point, the president was interrupted by an immigrant from South Korea.
“You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country,” said the immigrant.
“Actually, I don’t. And that’s why we’re here,” replied Obama.
Obama explained that Congress has to act first. But House Speaker Boehner says the process takes time.
“Our committees are continuing to do their work, there are a lot of private conversations that are under way, to try to figure out how we best move on a common sense, step by step basis to address this very important issue,” said Boehner.
Meanwhile, for hunger striker Avila, the fast is starting to take its toll.
“At day nine, I think we are starting to see a little bit of the effects of the fasting. Just walking, standing up for long periods of time, you feel the fatigue a little bit more,” explained Avila.
Advocates of immigration reform say there is no time to waste.