Every year, Eliseo Medina looks forward to a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey stuffed tacos with his family in California. But this time, he is hoping to use hunger to spur on immigration reform.
This year, however, the former secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union will be having nothing but water as Thanksgiving day marks seventeen days of his hunger strike designed to protest the inaction in Washington concerning immigration reform.
Medina plans on spending the holiday in a tent at the foot of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Medina, who has lost 19 pounds since beginning the hunger strike, says his goal is to bring attention to the unfortunate circumstances of immigrants. He says his number one desire is to connect with people on a level that has nothing to do with policy or politics. He also says he is hoping that this campaign will pressure Republicans in the House of Representatives to move into action when it comes to immigration reform.
Medina says his number one motivation is the close to 200 people who die yearly in an attempt to cross into America via the Sonora Desert which borders Mexico.
Medina has received some pretty famous visitors to his tent who have dropped by to show support. Two of these visitors were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden. Two Republicans from California who support immigration reform, David Valadao and Jeff Denham, have also dropped by and visited Medina.
Medina, who is 67 years old, does acknowledge that his family worries where his health is concerned.
It comes as no surprise to Medina that some Republicans have dismissed the campaign as a desperate effort to gain publicity. But still others say that this effort is helping to raise public awareness over the issue. When people see Medina and the others in the tent fasting, they are hopefully reminded that immigration reform is a real issue.
For his part, Medina would like to see the White House get more involved in the battle. He says he recognizes that the ultimate answer is Congressional action but Medina would like to see the White House do more. Congressional action is needed to address the problems of the immigration system, but through executive orders, the Obama administration could help slow down the deportation rate, and a result, keep more families together.
The biggest inspiration for Medina comes from an event that occurred 45-years ago when Cesar Chavez went on a hunger strike to gain empathy for labor situations on farms. Medina was 22 at the time this took place.
For 25 days, Chavez did not partake of any food. The strike ended when Senate Robert F. Kennedy, who was about to announce his candidacy for president, showed up and gave Chavez a slice of bread to end the strike.
Medina says that event drove him to get more involved with union efforts. He spent his career trying to convince immigrants to get involved in unions. He now leads an advocacy program which works for immigration reform.
It is his hope that the hunger strike will bring about the reform needed. The type of change he saw take place 45 years ago inspired him. He is hoping his efforts will inspire others to take action as well.
By Rick Hope