Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Immigration: A 40-Hour Fast For a Moral Solution

For the last 12 years, The Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State has organized a 40-hour Interfaith Fast during the Christian season of Lent, to highlight issues of social and economic injustice and to move people to prayer, reflection, and responsive action. We fast because we hunger for justice and righteousness.

This year's 13th Annual 40-Hour Fast focuses on Immigrants. It will start at 8 PM on Tuesday, March 4 and end at noon on Thursday, March 6.

What we do in NY can be duplicated elsewhere. Please read, and then think about what you can do where you are. Downloadable brochures and other information are at


"You must not oppress the stranger...
for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt."
Exodus 23:9


During our fast, what can we do?


Pray daily that immigrants are welcomed in our communities as sisters and brothers and that all workers receive fair wages and are treated with dignity.

If you know of any worker not being paid overtime or the NYS minimum wage, contact the NYS Department of Labor at 1-800-447-3992. New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, must earn at least of $7.15 per hour (including tips).

Contact the Fiscal Policy Institute (518/ 786-3156) to receive a copy of Working For a Better Life: A Profile of Immigrants in the New York State Economy or download a copy at

Learn about the rights of workers to overtime wages, prevailing wage rates for certain public building projects and other programs and services available to all without regard to immigration status. For information or to schedule a presentation, contact the Bureau of Immigrant Workers’ Rights in the New York State Department of Labor at 518/ 457-6162 (upstate) or 212/ 775-3665 (downstate).

Visit to learn what some religious congregations are doing to make immigrant families visible as children of God in the face of raids and deportations.

Attend (or help to plan) a community forum or roundtable discussion on immigration. Contact a Labor-Religion Coalition to connect with planning in your region.

Support statewide policies that give farmworkers and domestic workers the rights and protections from which they are now excluded.

Read the Unity Blueprint for Immigration Reform, available (along with other resources) at It provides specific legislative proposals aimed at achieving a workable, just and fair immigration system.


An overhaul of U S. trade policies such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), which have led to the impoverishment of working people in Mexico and other countries. These policies have created a desperate need to leave one’s country and migrate to the U.S. in search of survival wages.

Adequate funding and enforcement of all U.S. labor laws, including wage and hour laws, health and safety laws and protection of workers’ right to freely join a union. Addressing these issues for U.S.-born workers is part of what it means to create a welcoming climate for immigrants.

A program that values families and favors the unification of family members.

A pathway to earned citizenship, building on the values we all share. Exploitation, punishment and mass deportation of immigrants isn’t right or workable.

(Based on the Summary and Users Guide to For You Were Once a Stranger: Immigration in the U.S. Through the Lens of Faith (2007). Download at Interfaith Worker Justice,

--WHY 40 HOURS?--

The number 40 has special significance in both religious and labor traditions.

The Hebrew scriptures speak of the 40 years in the wilderness and the 40 days of rain that preceded a new covenant with Noah, both transformative events.

For Christians, the 40 days of Lent are a time of sacrifice, prayer and action rooted in Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert.

The labor movement, after many years of sacrifice and struggle, gained a 40 hour work-week for most workers in the US.


"Fasting is a transforming act--it has the moral power to bring about political change worthy of our state…"
Bishop Howard Hubbard, Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany

"…workers in New York are hungering for economic and social justice, and our fasting is a manifestation of our identity with their cause." Rabbi Balfour Brickner

"Muslims fast from daybreak until dusk during the entire month of Ramadan. Denial of sustenance is one way Muslims share a connection to those who suffer from hunger and poverty."
Imam Djafer Sebkhaoui

"Way back in the beginning of our union, someone asked what we expected from the church. I answered that …we wanted the Church to be present with us, willing to sacrifice for justice."
Cesar Chavez

"This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke." Isaiah 58:6


During these 40 hours you are invited to go without solid food for one or more meals, or for the time between sunrise and sunset on March 5, or for the entire 40 hours, or for the time between meals.

How to fast
The Labor-Religion Fast asks you to not eat solid food during the 40 hours or during a period you identify. It is important to drink plenty of liquids while fasting. In your hunger, you are asked to take action, "to hunger for justice" so that on-going and persistent injustice in New York State may be alleviated.

It is hoped you will invite others (family members, co-workers, your religious congregation, your union brothers and sisters, etc.) to join the Fast. Call 518/ 213-6000, ext. 6294 for more brochures.

Fasters need not change their normal schedule; however, you are encouraged to join with others in your local area for an opening of the Fast on the evening of March 5. Many groups will also "break the fast" together with a simple noon meal and prayer service following the 40th hour on March 7.

You are invited to join others in 2007 FAST events. Click here for details.

Medical Advice for Fasting
(adapted from Women Against War, sponsor of a 24 hour fast)
Most healthy adults can safely fast for 24 hours. However, some people should not participate such as those with diabetes, liver or kidney disease, persons on chronic steroids, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

It is common to feel some uncomfortable sensations during a period of fasting. These include headache, fatigue, some nausea later in the fast, lightheadedness or dizziness especially with standing up. Regular coffee or tea drinkers are more likely to experience withdrawal headaches or migraines triggered by fasting.

Preparations for fasting:
•In the first 12-16 hours of fasting most of our readily available calorie sources are consumed.
•It probably helps to eat a carbohydrate rich meal before beginning the fast. Carbohydrate rich foods include cereals, breads, pasta, grains, rice, legumes.
•Coffee and tea drinkers may try to reduce their consumption several days before their fast.
•Once the fast begins, it is important to conserve energy. Plan to rest and nap throughout the time.
•It helps to have warm clothing to help maintain body temperature.
•It is important to continue to drink plenty of water.

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