MIAMI (AP) — Three immigrant advocates on a hunger strike to pressure lawmakers to change the country's immigration system ended their three-week fast Tuesday on the National Mall, while a new group of fasters including U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III took their place.
About half a dozen Congress members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were there as the fasters left the tent Tuesday. Minnesota Democratic U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum began one-day solidarity fasts with the activists.
Immigration advocates in a handful of cities around the country also announced their own fasts in solidarity with those in D.C. Nearly a dozen activists in central and South Florida embarked on one-day fasts, as did groups in California and Oregon.
On Tuesday, Maria Rodriguez, head of the Florida Immigrant Coalition in Miami, posted a picture of herself on Twitter with a sign reading "I fast for Immigration Reform In Solidarity with D.C. fasters" and urged others to do the same.
In Bakersfield, Calif., activists kicked off "11 days for 11 million" — a fast referencing the estimated number of people living in the country illegally. In Vista, Calif., immigrant advocates and religious leaders planned a 24-hour fast outside Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa's office. Staff at the nonprofit Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles also joined a 24 hours liquid fast.
Activists in Bend, Ore., joined the one-day fast, calling on Republican U.S. Rep Greg Walden to come out in support of a comprehensive immigration bill. Organizers said Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Services Consortium, Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota and Eliseo Medina of the SEIU ended their fast Tuesday on the recommendation of doctors who examined them. The three had camped out since Nov. 12 in chilly temperatures, receiving a range of visitors, including President Barack Obama. He stopped by the tent Friday, reiterating optimism that immigration changes will come.
Yoon said he joined the fast because he sees so much suffering when immigrant parents are separated from their children and deported. "This will create urgency," Yoon said. "Many people will be with us and if we fast and pray together, maybe we can move (House Speaker John) Boehner's heart and soul so he can see and make the right decision for America."
Boehner refuses to schedule a vote on a comprehensive bill the Senate passed in June but has said the House would consider piecemeal legislation. It's unclear if and when the House will take up the smaller bills.
Also on Tuesday, the nonprofit Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice and the Muslim Public Affairs Council organized solidarity fasts with the immigrant advocates. Other new fasters included Rabbi David Saperstein, whom Newsweek called in 2009 the most influential Rabbi in America, as well as Stephan Bauman, the head of World Relief. Also fasting, Chicago native Phillip Agnew, a 2008 graduate and university board trustee of Florida A&M University, a historically black school and Rev. Gabriel Salguero, head of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.
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Associated Press writers Amy Taxin in Tustin, Calif., Edwin Tamara in Los Angeles and Gosia Wozniacka in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.