SPRINGFIELD (Delco) When the Fast for Families bus rolled into Springfield, Delaware County, on Wednesday, Sister Mary Beth Hamm of the Sisters of St. Joseph was there.
The bus and its changing cast of passenger-protesters left Los Angeles on Feb. 24 and has stopped in key congressional districts nationwide to press for changes to immigration law.
Its target this time: Republican Patrick Meehan.
Participants, including labor and faith leaders, have fasted every Wednesday during Lent, a gesture they say highlights the deprivation immigrant families feel when a parent is deported.
"We know we have a broken immigration system when 180,000 parents of U.S. citizen children have been deported in the last two years" and 5,100 children have gone into foster care, said Sister Mary Beth, whose order is based in Chestnut Hill and whose grandparents were Irish immigrants.
She called on Meehan, "a fellow Catholic," to support changes including "a pathway to citizenship, and preserve family unity."
Meehan was in Washington, not at his district office. Fast for Families members met briefly with a staffer and left a letter explaining their goals.
An immigration reform bill passed the Senate last summer. A similar bill is stalled in the House. Protesters and many Democratic members of Congress are calling for Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), and GOP Whip Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to bring it to a vote.
"I live in this district. I've been badgering [Meehan] for a couple of years," said Hiro Nishikawa, 75, of Haverford, a Japanese American whose family was interned during World War II and who is a member of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, an advocacy group. He accused Meehan of "sitting on the fence. It's time to get off and support us."
In November, Fast for Families drew national attention when some of its leaders and supporters fasted for 22 days in a tent near the Capitol. Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, a Washington social justice group, was one of them and was on the bus Wednesday. She grew up in Philadelphia.
"Go to your church. Talk to your priest," she urged, as if speaking directly to Meehan. "Ask him what he believes about immigration reform."
In a statement, a spokesman for Meehan said the congressman believes America is "a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws and we must respect both by fixing our nation's broken immigration system." John Elizandro said the House is moving forward on immigration reforms, and that Meehan "will continue working to secure our borders once and for all and create a working legal immigration system that doesn't encourage lawbreaking."