EMU professor, MCC representative fast for reform

Each morning, before heading to work at Eastern Mennonite University, nursing professor Ann Graber Hershberger chows down on breakfast.

When she goes home, her angry stomach demands dinner, and she obliges.

Her lack of lunch isn’t an oversight or a necessary negligence due to work overload. The empty plate mid-day is a statement.

Hershberger, the chair of the Mennonite Central Committee‘s U.S. board, has committed to fasting while praying for immigration reform, along with three other committee leaders.

That includes J. Ron Byler, executive director, Saulo Padilla, immigration education coordinator, and Luke Schrock-Hurst, the locally-based Virginia representative, who is fasting one meal five days per week. Hershberger is fasting one meal every day.

Thousands of people across the nation have dedicated themselves to fasting while praying for immigration reform.

“We believe that comprehensive immigration reform is the only thing that’s really going to deal with the crisis,” Schrock-Hurst said.

The fast is symbolically lasting for 40 days, from Sept. 9 – the date Congress last reconvened – to Oct. 14.

“I am basically praying that our legislators … would limit the harsh, unreasonable responses [to undocumented workers],” Hershberger said.

“I come at this from both a personal interest in immigration and also my board chair role.”

Along with her husband, Jim, the director of the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program in Harrisonburg, she spent a decade in mission work in Central America.

There, she saw the struggle for immigration from the other side.

“I have seen the … factors of war and poverty that drive people to try to make life possible for their children,” she said.

She’s specifically against House Bill 2278, the so-called SAFE Act co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, which she says would “basically encourage profiling.”

It would also overcrowd prisons, she added, and subject anyone who assists illegal immigrants to the wrath of the law.

Comprehensive immigration reform appears to be dead in the water this year, “with everything else that’s happening in Washington,” Hershberger said. Many families try to cross the border illegally for financial reasons, she says.

“Mexican farmers who have raised corn for generations no longer can afford to grow corn,” she said, adding that their crops are undersold by U.S. corn due to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Many of them come to the U.S.,” she said. “If the U.S. would put as much money into job creation in Mexico or Central America as we do in patrolling the borders, or even half, it seems to me that the reasons for coming to the U.S. would be much fewer.”

She hopes that all people – especially those of faith – will look past illegal immigrants’ status.

“Whether I agree or not with someone coming across the border, it seems that – as a Christian – I need to at least hear their story and try to understand what their life is like,” she said.

Courtesy Daily News Record, Oct. 5, 2013