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President Barack Obama visited Friday the activists fasting on the National Mall to protest House inaction on immigration reform legislation.
On the day after Thanksgiving, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stopped by the tent where 10 activists have shunned all food except water for the past 18 days. The demonstration is called the "Fast for Families" and includes Eliseo Medina, a top labor organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Obama told the activists that he appreciated their efforts.
"We are very proud of you," Obama told the activists on behalf of his administration.
“I remain optimistic that we’re going to get this done. It’s more of a question of when not if. But I’d rather get it done sooner rather than later because each day, obviously, it’s not done makes it more difficult because we still have a system that’s not working for too many people.”
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The president also reiterated his view that there is still time this year for the House to pass legislation. “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” he said.
House Speaker John Boehner has refused to schedule votes on a comprehensive immigration measure the Senate passed this summer.
Organizers issued a call for citizens all across the United States to ask Boehner to back down and unblock the road to immigration reform that would regularize the status of some 11 million people in this country. Though many of the activists have set out to fast for 40 days, according to "FAST ACTION For Immigration Reform," some are committing to just a few days or even hours.
Boehner has opted for a piecemeal approach. But that process has moved too slowly to satisfy immigration advocates.
“What moves us is the hunger for justice,” said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, who has lost 20 pounds (9.1 kg) so far during the protest.
“Any sacrifice is small and is not comparable to that of the immigrants who lose their lives in the desert seeking a better future or whose families suffer deportation,”
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.
Vice President Joe Biden visited the activists last week and prayed with them. Other members of the Obama administration who have visited the activists in the past few weeks, according to a White House Statement, include Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett