WASHINGTON -- After 21 days without eating, three protesters hoping to press House Republicans to pass an immigration overhaul bill ended their fast Tuesday with a loaf of bread and a bottle of organic apple juice at the steps of the Capitol.
The fasters, including labor leader Eliseo Medina, 67, drank only water over the last three weeks and each lost more than 20 pounds.
Dae Joong Yoon, a Korean American community leader from Los Angeles who has been fasting with Medina, was hospitalized briefly Sunday because of low levels of sodium in his body. Yoon, 43, was treated but kept fasting until Tuesday.
Christian Avila, a 23-year-old student from Phoenix, also stopped his fast after not eating since Nov. 12.
Avila was brought into the country illegally by his parents and has been granted a temporary visa and work permit under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which began last year.
He joined the fast in part because his parents don’t have proper immigration papers and he wants Congress to change the law so they can stay in the United States.
Since they began the fast, the group has occupied a white tent on the National Mall, where they received visitors, held strategy meetings, prayed and napped.
A stream of politicians and celebrities came to lend support, including President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Vice President Joseph Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and two California Republicans, Reps. David Valadao and Jeff Denham.
Other protesters will begin fasting in the same tent on Tuesday. The group will include Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.), a grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and several religious leaders.
“Today we end one fast and begin another ... We can no longer wait for immigration reform,” Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Washington Theodore McCarrick said, adding that he hopes that House Republicans will be touched by the sacrifice of the protesters.
Medina, former secretary-treasurer for the Service Employees International Union, said his goal was to “touch the heart” of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who decides which bills are brought to the floor for a vote.
The Senate narrowly passed an immigration bill in June that would spend more than $30 billion on border security and create a system to allow millions of people in the country illegally to eventually apply for citizenship. That bill has stalled in the House.
Boehner has said he will not put the Senate bill up for a House vote. House Republicans instead are drafting a series of narrow bills to change aspects of immigration law.
But none are expected to include a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally, and none are expected to be brought to a vote this year, as the immigration advocates had hoped.