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Monday, April 21, 2014

ROB SISK: Reflections on Fasting for Immigration Reform

Rob Sisk, President of SEIU 503, participated in a 7 week fast for immigration reform with the national Fast for Families campaign and Causa Oregon. This week marks the last of the 7-week fast. Below are his reflections about fasting for immigration reform. Causa thanks Rob and SEIU for their commitment and sacrifice to the immigration reform movement.

Rob Sisk, President, SEIU Local 503 OPEU
I am Rob Sisk, president of SEIU 503, OPEU, and for more than a year, my union, other unions and social justice and worker rights organizations have been pushing for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that will protect current undocumented workers in this country, give them a clear path to citizenship, and allow families who are divided in legal status to stay together.

When Eliseo Medina, recently retired secretary-treasurer of SEIU International, came to Portland and called for Lenten days of “Fast for Families” to highlight the need and urgency for Congress to pass immigration reform, I wanted to participate in this nationwide symbolic sacrifice that showed the hunger for immigration reform. Wednesdays were chosen to coincide with the start of Lent.

Coming in winter, with its chilly weather and short daylight, this season of penance and reflection can seem lengthy, made more so by seven weekly fast days. But that also offered plenty of time to think of those who for years have lived in fear from harassment by immigration officers, longed for employment security, and for an end to the threat of family members being separated by force.

One of the ethics of organized labor is to stand up for all working people, with a particular sensitivity and passion for those facing the lowest pay and some of the poorest working conditions. Certainly one of the largest groups has to be undocumented workers that do the essential, very hard and often unpleasant jobs no one else will do. When we can bring these people out from the “shadow” economy they often work in for fear of deportation, we can start protecting them from the elements of wage theft, poverty wages and unsafe working conditions. We can also expose them to the path towards a better life that comes in uniting all workers for the power and strength necessary to improve their welfare and that of their families.

It seemed to me as a union president responsible for raising the standards of all working people, seven days of fast over nearly two months was a small price to pay for such a worthy goal. Yes, each day did carry with it hours of discomfort. But one of the spiritual goals of personal sacrifice, such as fasting, is to develop empathy and compassion for those going through worse discomfort and trauma. It was not unusual during one of my fasting days to think of the mental and psychological pain of uncertainty and insecurity that undocumented workers experience, and the low-income living conditions they often suffer in that status.

Having traveled many times extensively south of the border, I have seen the sub-standard working and living conditions many undocumented workers came here to escape. My fast also reminded me that the comfortable standard of living and decent jobs I and so many of my fellow citizens enjoy are the products of our ancestors also coming here to build better lives. That opportunity has become known as the American Dream. It is the fate of the eleven million undocumented workers –so dependent on Comprehensive Immigration Reform -- that will determine whether the American Dream, a fundamental precept of this nation, continues to be valid and an inspiration here and around the world. For that goal, in the end, seven days of fast proved not even an inconvenience, but a privilege I was grateful to have had.


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