Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, one of the nation’s most prominent Latino religious leaders, has subsisted on just sparkling water and broth for one week as he continues on a hunger strike to press Congress to pass an immigration reform bill.
Rodriguez told Fox News Latino that he has lost nearly five pounds since he started the fast, which he intends to continue for at least 40 days. More Latino leaders and immigration reform advocates will be holding fasts in the coming weeks.
“It’s an exercise in prophetic activism,” Rodriguez said, “for the purpose of raising the moral conscience, or resurrecting the moral conscience, to pass immigration reform.”
He's hoping to appeal to the nation's leader's values so that, in turn, they will then be determined to enact immigration reform.
“At the end of the day, there has to be some sort of moral push,” he said.
The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June that would tighten enforcement and provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
But efforts to draft legislation have stalled in the House, where conservative Republicans have vowed not to pass any measure that gives undocumented immigrants a chance to legalize. They consider a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants “amnesty,” essentially rewarding lawbreakers.
Supporters of such provisions, including some Republicans, say that deporting the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants is impossible as well as not in the interest of the United States, which depends to some extent on such people to do certain jobs.
Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation's largest Christian Hispanic organization, representing more than 40,000 churches. He describes himself as politically conservative though not registered or affiliated with any political party.
"In the spirit of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other leaders who have acted on the moral imperative to do justice, as well as our ultimate example found in Jesus, I likewise sense an urgent conviction to engage in the spiritual exercise that in my faith narrative produces great results," said Rodriguez just before he launched the strike.
The pastor said that he has received hundreds of calls from around the country from people who plan to join in the hunger strike.
On Tuesday, immigrant rights, faith, labor, and community groups plan a press conference in Washington to announce that they will also launch a fast for immigration reform. Those groups include the Church World Service, Faith in Public Life, The PICO Network, the Service Employees International Union, the Alliance for Citizenship, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Sojourners, Franciscan Action Network, and dozens of other groups.
On Nov. 18 and 19, about 300 Hispanic religious leaders are expected to arrive in Washington D.C. to meet with congressional lawmakers about immigration.
Rodriguez, who met with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, recently, said he would be heartened by a commitment from lawmakers to move forward a bill early next year.
“If I can come out of this fast with a statement that lacks ambiguity that in the next legislative session this will be the first thing they tackle, then we will have a Christmas gift for 11 million people,” he said. “I want to give 11 million people hope that this game will be over.”