For 22 days, a group of activists has gone without food in hopes of getting Congress to vote on immigration reform. But now, their bodies have reached their limit.
Four demonstrators, including union leader Eliseo Medina, announced Tuesday they are ending their hunger strike and passing the torch to seven others who will fast in their place. The new group includes freshman Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), the grandson of former U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.
The core group of demonstrators went without food and drank only water more than three weeks, which took a physical toll. Medina, 67, lost 20 pounds during the fast and others experienced rapid weight loss and exhaustion.
They were taken to George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. for examination, according to organizers.
Kennedy said those who started the fast and the officials in attendance are "carrying on this fight for the next generation."
"We have always relied on those that are fearless enough to challenge us to be that better country that we can be," Kennedy said during remarks in both Spanish and English.
The protest, known as the “Fast for Families,” began Nov. 12 and has drawn attention from national leaders. The audience of around 100 included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Al Sharpton, Bernice King, and Rep Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), among others. In all, at least 15 lawmakers appeared at Tuesday’s event, all House Democrats.
President Obama visited the group last Friday and Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit the prior week. A handful of GOP lawmakers, including California Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao, have also stopped by the group’s tent on the National Mall.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, offered a blessing for the demonstrators who ended their fast.
"Today we end one fast and begin another," he said. "You have kept the nation's focus on this vital issue because of your sacrifice."
With lawmakers looking on, Rev. Jim Wallis, a new faster, said he is depriving himself of food in order to counteract gridlock blocking an immigration reform in Congress.
"This must go deeper than politics because politics is stuck," he said. "We must go deeper now. Fasting changes us. Prayer changes us."
Pelosi told Fusion after the event that the fasters serve as an “inspiration” and that she hopes their actions “make it too hot” for House Republicans not to hold a vote on an immigration bill.
"They are fasting to show how desperate the situation is," Pelosi said.
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he won’t take up that piece of legislation. House Republicans have said they want to deal with immigration through a series of smaller bills, but so far none have come to the floor for a vote.
Eddie Carmona, an immigrant-rights activist who has been fasting for three days, said he hopes lawmakers do more than just sympathize with the demonstrators.
“We appreciate them all coming down here,” he said following the event. “But we need action … let’s get to work.”
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.