A Korean immigrant who fasted for 22 days last year in an effort to keep the immigration reform debate alive encouraged an Omaha audience Monday to keep fighting for the cause.
Fasting demonstrates activists' commitment to immigration reform and their refusal to give up until Congress provides a pathway to citizenship, D.J. Yoon, a Los Angeles leader of Fast for Families, told 40 people at First United Methodist Church.
In November, Yoon and other activists camped along the Washington Mall while they fasted. The president, vice president, congressional representatives and others stopped by the tent to find out what the group was doing.
Fasting gains attention and keeps the immigration issue in the spotlight, Yoon said.
“When you fast, you sacrifice,” Yoon said. “When people sacrifice, people pay attention and are interested in why we are fasting.”
The U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill last year, but it stalled in the House of Representatives. Yoon wants Omahans to call Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry and ask them to bring the legislation to a vote this year.
Yoon and his colleagues plan to visit more than 100 congressional districts in the coming months to talk about immigration reform and to ask people to fast, pray and reach out to local lawmakers. The Fast for Families bus tour will end in Washington, D.C., on April 9.
“I hope House leaders will stop viewing immigration reform as a political issue and start viewing it as a family and moral issue,” he said. “We can't keep separating families. That's not what America is about.”
A few young, undocumented immigrants also spoke Monday night about the struggles and obstacles they've faced. Most were brought to the U.S. illegally as children but have since received temporary authorization from the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to live and work in the United States.
But one undocumented Colombian immigrant said she was denied DACA authorization because she arrived in the country as a 14-year-old in October 2007 — three months after the eligibility cutoff.
She said she is afraid to graduate from the College of St. Mary next year because she won't be able to legally work in the country. She has two majors and expects to receive a medical interpreter certificate.
“The only job I will be able to get involves picking corn or working at a fast food restaurant,” she said. “I pray that one day I will be allowed to work with the tools that I have been given, and I hope that one day I can help make this country a little bit better.”