Religious leaders urge fasting, praying for immigration reform


by Suzanne Pollak
Senior Writer

Faith communities are making a full court press, promising to pray, fast and lobby Congress during the next 40 days, to keep alive what momentum is still there for immigration reform.
“High Holidays are a time when we are supposed to think, how can we do better?” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and one of five speakers Monday afternoon on a telephone conference call.
Jews are taught that God commanded them “to treat the stranger, the resident alien, as yourself,” he said.
Concerned that the recent groundswell of support for immigration is waning while Syria and the debt ceiling are all Congress is concerned about, these religious leaders launched Fast Action for Immigration Reform on Monday with more than 4,100 people in 44 states committing to pray, fast and work for immigration reform.
Fasting can mean missing one meal a day for 40 days, not eating for a full day each work or “fasting from the Internet, fasting from e-mail,” explained Sister Carol Zinn, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The idea is “to open our hearts to action,” explained Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.
This Interfaith Immigration Coalition is hoping for a “compassion surge” that will result in the House of Representatives adopting immigration reform similar to what the Senate did earlier this summer, Zinn said. “It’s clear to us we are at a pivotal moment.”
“People of faith are unwilling to settle for inaction on immigration reform. Everyday, more and more families are being torn apart,” Zinn said. “We believe that if prayer can move mountains, then prayer can move House members to listen to their conscience.”
The Senate’s immigration reform bill includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in America. It also includes the hiring of more border security agents.
Also on the conference call was Rep. Raul Grijalva, (D-Ariz.), who said that while “Congress is worried about Syria and fiscal matters, this is an issue that cannot be put off. This is an issue that cannot wait.”
Al Samuels is a member of Shepherd Park Christian Church in D.C. and the father of four. It wasn’t that long ago that he found himself in a detention center in Salisbury, Md. because he was undocumented. He constantly feared he would be deported throughout his five-month incarceration.
Samuels, who came to this country from Jamaica and spent four years in the U.S. Marines and another four years in the reserves, found himself in a cell block with 32 men of varying backgrounds and stories. At first, the men spent much time arguing and fighting.
Then “over the course of two weeks, the majority of us fasted, just skipping meals. We were unified in solidarity. The arguments, the fighting over the resources subsided,” he said. “I stand here today as a witness, living proof that when people of faith come together in prayer, we can find peace and reconciliation,” he said during the telephone call.
Saperstein said Reform Jews were also coming together for immigration reform. He said that more rabbis in the Reform movement gave sermons on immigration than Syria during Rosh Hashana.
“We are the quintessential immigrant community. We have been so often forced to leave” a country, he said.
“We, as people of faith, are coming together,” said Sister Campbell. “Our prayer can lead us to action, and our actions can lead to change. Let Capital Hill hear from us. Change the law now.”
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