Boehner, you could end a hunger strike

Dae Jae Yong is fasting with Fast for Families, a group asking Speaker John Boehner to set a vote for an immigration bill.

Story highlights

  • People fasting in D.C. to protest inaction on immigration reform with path to citizenship
  • "Fast for Families" participants have gone about two weeks surviving only on water
  • Sally Kohn: Strong majority of Americans support reform, Republicans coming around
  • Kohn: But the holdup is House Speaker John Boehner refusing to bring reform to a vote

In a tent on the lawn just in front of the United States Capitol, immigration reform advocates are entering their second week without food to protest congressional inaction on legislation that would create a road to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans.

The core group at the "Fast for Families" has gone 13 days surviving only on water — including Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium and Cristian Avila with the group Mi Familia Vota. They have pledged to continue their fast until immigration reform is enacted by Congress or until doctors tell them their lives are at risk.

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council in the White House, visited the fasters. This week, during a speech in San Francisco about the urgent need for immigration reform, President Obama gave a shout-out to those fasting. The president said, "We hear you. The whole country is with you."

Sally Kohn

Which is, of course, partially true. The fact is that a strong majority of Americans do indeed support the goals of those fasting and want a comprehensive immigration law that includes a road to citizenship. According to a recent poll from the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute, at least 73% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans support such a measure. Not only that, but about three-in-four voters in key Republican-represented swing Congressional districts also support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

So who, exactly, isn't with the fasters? Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. If the immigration reform bill already passed by the Senate were brought for a vote in the House, it would likely pass — because 29 House Republicans have indicated their support, including many from those swing districts and districts with growing Latino communities. Yet Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner refuses to give the bill a vote.

Eliseo Medina, who is fasting, says he has "a hunger for an end to a system that creates such misery."

Yeah, you read that correctly — a bill that would bring relief to millions of undocumented immigrant families just in time for the holidays, a bill that a strong majority of voters in both parties support, a bill that everyone from community groups to business groups resoundingly supports, a bill that would actually pass both Houses of Congress and become law despite our historic levels of gridlock — that bill isn't even being brought up for a vote because John Boehner just doesn't want to do it. Such is the sad state of so-called leadership in the Republican Party today.

If you haven't seen the video in which teen activists confront Boehner while he's eating his breakfast at a diner and tell him their stories of how immigrant families are being ripped apart every day in America, it's worth a watch. Boehner says he'll "try to find a way to move a bill forward." But in fact, he has been the one singlehandedly blocking a vote.

So the brave souls in the tent in front of the Capitol continue not to eat. Are they hungry? Sure. But, as Eliseo Medina, a son of Mexican migrant farmworkers, told the Washington Post, "(T)here 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."

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The juxtaposition is powerful. At a diner near the Capitol, you have Boehner casually dumping salt on his plate of food while seeming completely uninterested in the plight of the two teens who are telling him how their families have been torn apart by America's broken immigration policies. In a tent near the Capitol, advocates are literally starving themselves to protest Boehner's callous inaction.

This Thanksgiving, may we remember the story of our nation's founding — not always a simple story for all involved, and certainly not since, but at it essence, a story of people coming to a new land seeking new opportunity.

And when we sit down to eat our turkey and fixings, may we remember those who are going without food to support the millions of aspiring Americans whose families cannot be together this holiday season because of our broken laws.

And may we pray that John Boehner, sitting with his own family and saying grace, can find it in his heart and political calculus to bestow grace on others — and finally let immigration reform have a vote.

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