Pastor’s Hunger Strike Reaches 31st Day | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Pastor’s Hunger Strike Reaches 31st Day

A south-suburban Pentecostal has gone a full month without food. He's demanding that President Obama's administration suspend most deportations. He's also wondering why no one seems to be paying attention.

From the energy of an evening prayer he leads, you wouldn't know Rev. Martín Santellano's last meal was May 16.

But when it's time to climb a short flight of stairs, the 42-year-old pastor can hardly gather the strength.

SANTELLANO: Right now I feel very weak, especially at this time of the day. I usually speak louder. I'm a preacher, remember?

Santellano leads New Hope Apostolic Ministries, a mostly Mexican congregation in Glenwood.

SANTELLANO: There are a lot of families here in the church. The children are suffering emotionally a lot because they're afraid that one of these days their mom, their dad, is going to be pulled over by police and never make it home.

Pastor Santellano says that's what led to his hunger strike. His family and friends say he's had nothing but water and fruit juice for a full month.

SANTELLANO: We've been e-mailing, faxing, to the senators, to the representatives. Over a hundred faxes to the White House. Red envelopes, a little bit over a thousand. Simple message: ‘Please, Mr. President, stop separating families.'

But Santellano says he's received no responses.

SANTELLANO: Not even from Gutiérrez.

He means Luis Gutiérrez, the congressman of Chicago. Gutiérrez is leading a push to provide millions of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. The congressman applauds the pastor's commitment.

GUTIERREZ: He is living truly the spirit of his own suffering and saying, ‘I'll put my life on the line. I'll put my own personal comfort on the line so that others can have fairness and justice.'

But Gutiérrez says he hadn't heard of the hunger strike until I told him about it this week. Pastor Santellano has also gone virtually unnoticed by English-language news media. And it's been about two weeks since a Spanish-language outlet has mentioned the hunger strike.

In New York City this month, some undocumented students fighting for legal status had a different experience.

MATEUS: We had the Daily News, El Diario, New York Times, NBC, ABC, Telemundo...

18-year-old Aura Mateus helped organize a hunger strike that lasted just 10 days but got attention.

MATEUS: A lot of preparation has to be made, a lot of contacts. Press releases have to be written. Managing a schedule, getting permits. We handed out fliers to over 5,000 people. We had a lot of people who were working in D.C., getting us coverage. And so it's really not smart to be at it alone. It just disappoints people, whether it's reporters or friends and family, because they see you suffering. And you think it's for a good cause but you're just only hurting yourself.

Immigrant-movement ranks are beginning to swell with evangelicals like Pastor Santellano. They don't have much organizing experience or many political connections.

In Chicago, a Methodist pastor named Walter Coleman says he started hearing from them in 2006. That's when Coleman's church took in Elvira Arellano. She's a Mexican-born mother who stayed there more than a year in open defiance of immigration authorities.

COLEMAN: We were contacted by evangelical pastors around the country -- churches that were offering sanctuary without ever telling the press. They just did it out of their faith. And I think that's what he represents.

MITCHELL: What do you suggest he do now? It's been four weeks. He's got four young children.

COLEMAN: He needs to say that he's made his statement and come off his hunger strike and recuperate a little bit and join us in the next stage of this.

Thirty-one days since his last food, Pastor Santellano seems to be getting the message.

SANTELLANO: I'm willing to take it all the way until I hear something from the federal government. But I'm human. And I don't know if I can last another 10 days.

Now an Anglican pastor in Chicago is offering to take over the fast. Santellano is accepting the offer. He says he'll start eating again tomorrow.

Music Button: Ideal Bread, "As Usual", from the CD Transmit, (Cuneiform)

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