WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke for 30 minutes Friday with about 20 activists who are fasting at the steps of the Capitol to an effort to pressure House Republicans to overhaul immigration laws.
Three of the protesters, including labor leader Eliseo Medina, have not eaten in 18 days and are drinking only water.
Sitting with the group inside a heated tent, Obama told the fasters that he supported their efforts but he was concerned they might permanently damage their health.
“He was really concerned about our health,” Christian Avila, a 23-year-old student from Arizona who stopped eating on Nov. 12.
“He said we might think about handing the torch over and taking a break,” Avila said, standing outside the tent in a brown hooded sweatshirt that read: “Act. Fast.”
Avila said he plans to stave off eating as long as he can.
Obama said he has told his staff to figure out what else they can do to get an immigration bill to his desk. The president said he believes Congress will eventually change the immigration system to allow immigrants in the country without proper papers to work and live legally.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” Avila recalled the president telling the group.
In June, the Senate passed an immigration bill that would increase spending by more the $30 billion for border security and would allow most of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally to pay a fine, submit to background checks and eventually become citizens.
The fasters also have been visited by Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, as well as two House Republicans from California, Jeff Denham and David Valadao, who both support passing an immigration bill in the House.