WASHINGTON | An East Chicago community organizer fasting for immigration reform on the National Mall had a visit from the president and first lady, who shared their support.
"It was great to have them there," Rudy Lopez, 43, said via phone from the Washington, D.C. site. "We had a chance to sit with them there and share our stories."
Lopez was on his 10th day Saturday of the demonstration with Fast For Families, a group only drinking water in protest of a lack of immigration reform. The group is only drinking water. Some have been fasting for 19 days.
The White House issued a statement after the 40-minute visit in which the President Barack Obama thanked the Fast for Families group "for their sacrifice and dedication and told them that the country is behind them on immigration reform."
Lopez said the concern of the Obamas for the demonstrators' health and cause was evident.
"The first lady came back and embraced every one of us," Lopez said. "I really felt her warmth and concern."
Lopez knows first-hand the impact immigration can have on families.
"My house has always been a port of entry for many family members who have come here undocumented looking for a new life," he said.
In 2005, his cousin planned to come to Houston, where he had a job waiting for him, Lopez said. The cousin hired a human smuggler to get him across the border and fell ill on the journey, Lopez said.
Lopez said the smuggler left his cousin with a gallon of water and a promise to return for him.
"I received a call from his wife, who hadn't heard from him," Lopez said.
Lopez made calls trying to see where his cousin might be. Ten days later, he said he received an early morning call saying his cousin's skeletal remains were found by rangers near the border.
"Every day, people are dying crossing the border," Lopez said.
Another cousin came to the U.S. when his wife was pregnant with their son and has not been home to see them since, Lopez said.
"I feel partly responsible because I keep telling him to hold out hope we'll get reform soon, and I've been telling him that for years now," Lopez said.
Lopez said he spoke to his mother in East Chicago on Saturday, who is "very concerned" about his health.
"We have a nurse with us 24 hours a day, and a doctor comes and checks on us regularly," he said.
Lopez said organizers are asking House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to take action on immigration reform. Boehner said he will not schedule a vote on the immigration measure passed this summer by the Senate.
Lopez is urging his congressman, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, to act as well.
"Congressman Visclosky, whom I really like and support, I really encourage him to support HR 15," Lopez said. "He's one of the few Democrats who hasn't signed onto it as a co-sponsor, and we're counting on him to take a stand."
Celina Weatherwax, spokeswoman for Visclosky, declined comment Saturday.