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Fasting for Immigration Reform

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Children reading their letters to Congress, urging for comprehensive immigration reform.                               Credit: Jessica Halperin

I hadn’t intended to fast on Sunday. I hadn’t expected to be so moved. I care about immigration reform, but it wasn’t until I stopped eating, paused, and gathered with other advocates that I remembered what we’re working for.

On my way to All Souls Church Unitarian here in Washington D.C. last Sunday morning, I didn’t stop for a bagel because I didn’t want to be late. Really, who wants to be late and miss that choral prelude? Our theme of the month is hope, and indeed, hope was a gift that our guest worshippers that morning, fasters from the Fast 4 Families, gave me. Fast for Families is a widely acclaimed month-long protest to refocus Congress’ attention on immigration reform. Ciana Taylor, who had been fasting for six days, reflected for us:

“I don’t know what it’s like to live life as an undocumented immigrant [but] I do, as a black woman, know what it’s like to be criminalized for the way that I am. Although I don’t know what it’s like to have family in detention facilities, I know what it’s like to have family that’s incarcerated under the same private prison corporations that are detaining my immigrant brothers and sisters. Although I don’t know what it’s like to have family members who are detained without telling the rest of your family where they are, I know what it’s like, especially after the death of Trayvon Martin, to wonder whether my brother is going to come home after playing with his friends during the day.”

We all have deeply personal and moral reasons to be pressing for immigration reform. (Listen to Ciana’s comments and the rest of that morning’s sermon here). Inspired, I decided to attend Vespers with the fasters that night, at their tents on the National Mall. To prepare myself properly for that service, I thought, I could probably skip lunch. It would only be appropriate to be hungry.

As I went about my day, buying Christmas presents for my family and watching the Steelers lose (again), I did in fact get hungry. I knew, though, that the discomfort I felt was insignificant compared to the hardship that many immigrant families face trying to come to, or stay in, the United States. In this ‘land of opportunity’ too many people are turned away from health care, from a decent wage, from legal protections. Too many families are torn apart by detentions and deportations. Too many people are dying in the desert.

The Vespers service on the Mall that night was led by All Souls DC clergy, and cosponsored by Planned Parenthood and the We Belong Together coalition, of which the UUA is a member. Brought to DC by the We Belong Together coalition, children read letters to Congress describing their “Wish for the Holidays“: simply to be reunited and safe with their families. Heartbreaking.

We celebrated and prayed for the fasters, who have been abstaining from anything but water for the past day, five days, up to 22 days, in order to help these children’s wish become a reality. Humbled, I decided to skip dinner, too, to make it a day-long fast. It was only appropriate to be hungry.

A shoe, abandoned in the desert, is the centerpiece of the altar in the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall.         Credit: Jessica Halperin

Their make-shift altar displayed religious icons, photographs, letters, drawings, and other mementos of support from across the United States and beyond. I saw notes from Unitarian Universalist congregations from California to Ohio. I was most moved, however, by the centerpiece of their altar: a medium-sized, black shoe that was melted by sand on the sides and bottom. It had been abandoned in the desert. Nobody knows who it belonged to. Did that person survive? Likely not.

“Not one more,” we said that night. Not one more death in the desert, not one more mother or father deported, not one more worker without rights. Not one more.

Immigration reform has stalled in the House of Representatives. Please join me, the fasters, and millions of others, in calling for its passage. The bill, H.R. 15, is awaiting a vote. This Thursday, the fasters are ending their protest with demonstrations on Capitol Hill.

If you are willing and able, please join us in a solidarity fast from noon tomorrow (Wednesday) until noon Thursday, when the action will begin. If you cannot fast, please call you representative and ask for their support of H.R. 15. If you are fasting, please be sure to register with the Fast for Families webpage. It will be an act of hope in a time of hunger. You are needed.


In solidarity, in hope, in faith,



This post was written by Jessica Halperin, a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from Pittsburgh and the UUA’s Witness Ministries Program Associate. Jess holds the environmental justice and reproductive justice portfolios for the UUA.


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