Obama meets with immigration reform hunger strikers

December 2, 2013

Monday will mark Rudy Lopez’s 12th day of going without food, including on Thanksgiving Day when so many Americans are feasting, not fasting.

But Lopez, a resident of East Chicago, Indiana, says he and 19 other activists are fasting to bring attention to the plight of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

“We’ve been fasting only on water to sustain us. And we have a core of four fasters who are on their 20th day,” Lopez told WBEZ on Sunday.
The activists main goal is to pressure U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to bring a vote to the floor on an immigration reform bill.

Lopez says the group is tired and hungry.

“But we’re more hungry for movement on such an important piece of legislation and something that’s going to change the lives of so many,” Lopez said.

The group received an unexpected visit from President Barack Obama on Friday. The President told them that their "commitment to change" ultimately will help pressure lawmakers to act.

On the day after the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving marked by an abundance of food, Obama stopped in at a heated, white tent on the National Mall where some activists have consumed only water since Nov. 12 in support of immigration legislation.

Obama mentioned the activists in an immigration speech in San Francisco earlier this week. He delivered his message in person on Friday, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama.

"I want everybody to know I remain optimistic that we're going to get this done," he said, according to video of his remarks. He said passage of an immigration bill was "more a question of when than if." "But I'd rather get this done sooner rather than later," Obama said.

The White House issued a statement after the approximately 40-minute visit that said Obama thanked the hunger strikers "for their sacrifice and dedication and told them that the country is behind them on immigration reform."

Organizers of the fast said Obama expressed concern for the health of the hunger strikers, and held the shoe of an immigrant who died in the Arizona desert while trying to enter the U.S.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has refused to schedule a vote on a comprehensive immigration measure the Senate passed this summer. The House prefers a piecemeal approach, but Boehner hasn't said whether lawmakers will consider any bills this year or whether the issue will slip into next year, when midterm-election politics will make legislative action less likely.

The House has moved too slowly to satisfy immigration advocates, including those on the hunger strike as well as a man who shouted during Obama’s speech in California for the president to stop separating families by deporting people who are living in the country illegally.

The president was the latest administration official to meet with the activists. Vice President Joe Biden, Cabinet secretaries and top White House advisers have also visited.

Follow WBEZ Reporter Michael Puente on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.