(Tents are set up on the National Mall, looking toward the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, for pro-immigration reform activists fasting to push congress to pass an immigration reform. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta))

Activists pitch a tent in view of the Capitol, start fast for immigration reform bill

Immigration is on the verge of being set aside yet again. A top House leader says it is over for the year. But activists refuse to pack it in.

Instead, on Tuesday, they pitched a tent on the National Mall and in the tradition of farmworker activist Cesar Chavez, a handful began an indefinite fast.

“We have a permit through the end of the year and we are going to be here,” said Eliseo Medina, who worked closely with Chavez and has been active in the labor movement for decades.

Chavez fasted several times throughout the years he organized on behalf of farmworkers. His first was in 1968 when he went on a 25-day, water only fast that drew national attention to the nonviolent protests of farmworkers and words of solidarity in a telegram from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The start of Medina’s indefinite fast and National Mall campout came just as Arctic air moved into the East Coast. Temperatures in Washington, D.C. were in the 30s and 40s  Tuesday and forecasts called for overnight temperatures in the 20s.

Four others were joining Medina in the fast in Washington and another in Arizona. Several groups were to join for a day or more at a time in solidarity. A Franciscan network and the Sisters network planned to have someone at the tent joining in the fast every day, said Medina, of the Service Employees International Union.

“It’s going to be very difficult. Going without food an extended period of time is going to result in physical hunger and pain,” Medina said. “But I also have this hunger within me that is different from hunger for food. When I look at (immigrant) family members they have no hope and live in fear. I have hunger that this system that causes so much misery in our community comes to an end. That to me is a deeper hunger and a more significant hunger than physical hunger.”

Liza Medina, center, stands next to May Santiago, holding wooden crosses, and is fasting, during a news conference in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, to announce the launch of the national “Fast for Families,”where activists will start extended fasting to push congress to pass an immigration reform. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Liza Medina, center, stands next to May Santiago, holding wooden crosses, and is fasting, during a news conference in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, to announce the launch of the national “Fast for Families,”where activists will start extended fasting to push congress to pass an immigration reform. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The fast also falls about three weeks before Thanksgiving, when sitting down to a full plate of food and more is done across the country and when immigrant advocates often remind Americans that much of their food is planted and harvested by people not legally in the U.S.

The fast is but one of numerous activities going on this week and through the end of the year, despite the pronouncement from Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking GOP leader, nothing would happen this year on immigration.

E-mail requests for comment from the offices of House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor were not immediately returned.

Also on Tuesday, thousands of Veterans Day postcards from Latinos were delivered to members of Congress reminding them of the many immigrants who have served and are serving in the military, according to groups that organized the postcard delivery.

Jesus Magana, an Air Force veteran, was part of the group petitioning for immigration reform. He had served in Kuwait and was to head to Afghanistan when his sister was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She spent two years in detention and was released in August, according to organizers.

“I was willing to die for my country that was tearing my family apart,” Magana said in a news release.

Later this week, dozens of children will be at the Capitol to tell the stories of the effect of deportation on their families. They will hold a procession and meet with participants in the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. A news conference is planned by business, law enforcement and faith leaders. Protests are planned at various offices and others are stepping up targeting national leaders and potential presidential candidates.

Mehrdad Azemun, campaign manager for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, said activities are planned through the rest of the year. He sees the comments by McCarthy, the House whip, as a trial balloon to quell the protests and demonstrations around immigration.

“Will our people be dispirited? Will it make us mad, make us sad? Make us go home?” Azemun said. “The answer is we are not giving up.”

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