Just two days into the Fast for Families Across America bus tour, members of the United Church of Christ are leading the charge from the front lines. During the tour's Feb. 26 stop at the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in Vista, Calif., the Rev. Madison Shockley and nearly 20 members of his congregation gathered to support the fasters and the members of their community who live with the impacts of the country's flawed immigration policies, while looking for accountability from the nation's leaders.
"Our congressman is one of those who is giving lip service to immigration reform, but is not fulfilling the action part," said Shockley, pastor of Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad, Calif. "So we stood on his front steps reminding him that he needs to act."
Shockley served as the emcee of the rally and news conference outside Issa's office building, and opened the event with a prayer. About 70 people attended the rally, as well as members of the media. The Fast for Families Across America stop in Vista also included a teach-in at Mira Costa Community College and a community meeting at the Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church.
"The divine one, the creator of us all, does not see us as separate people from separate nations, but as all of God's children," Shockley said in his prayer. "My prayer is that we begin to see each other as brother and sister so we can find a way to have a compassionate and comprehensive immigration policy that keeps families together and allows people to live lives of dignity without fear."
Immigration is an important issue at Pilgrim UCC, a social justice church with an active immigration ministry team. Because the border between the United States and Mexico extends more than 75 miles into the U.S., Carlsbad is technically a border community, Shockley said, which has been impacted by increased border security measures, immigration check points, and heightened police presence. Members of the congregation write letters, make congressional visits, and hold public education events, rallies, and prayer vigils calling for comprehensive immigration reform that will keep families together.
"We are a social justice church and, clearly, immigration is a critical social justice issue of our time," Shockley said. "Members of our congregation and certain members of our community are directly impacted by the broken immigration system we have."
Fast for Families Across America is a 66-day bus tour across the U.S. aiming to send a strong message about the critical need for immigration reform. The initiative is a follow-up to the nation's powerful response to Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform where, for 30 days in late 2013, hundreds of people gathered in a tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to support five core immigration advocates who fasted for change.
Phase I of Fast for Families Across America took place Jan. 29 through late February, when fasters and activists stopped in 67 key congressional districts throughout the country to lobby for immigration reform. Phase II began Feb. 24 when two buses departed from Los Angeles with plans to stop in nearly 70 cities throughout the U.S. before ending the journey in Washington, D.C., on April 9. After departing Los Angeles, one bus embarked on a route through the country's northern states, while the other travels though the south. The five core fasters, who survived on only water for 22 days during the original Fast for Families, are key participants in the nationwide tour.
"Our hopes in supporting the tour is to keep the pressure on Congress and not let them think the public does not care about this issue," Shockley said. "[House Speaker John] Boehner (R-Ohio) makes noise that reform is not going to happen this year, that they are just going to brush it off. But that's not acceptable.
"Every day we don't have immigration reform, families are being broken up and people are dying in the desert," he adds. "We can't put this off."