WASHINGTON — Photos of happy families were posted inside the Fast 4 Families Community Tent at the National Mall in Washington Nov. 12.

Beside the smiling faces, however, were Post-it notes that read "I pray that families stay together" and "God, please don't take my mom away."

National religious, labor and immigrant rights leaders gathered at a news conference to launch "Fast 4 Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship" and begin fasting until members of Congress vote in favor of immigration reform.

An evening prayer vigil was being organized by CASA in Action, with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and immigrant families participating.

Sister Simone Campbell, along with members of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby, planned to hold a morning prayer service Nov. 13 before delivering more than 10,000 postcards to members of Congress to persuade them to vote for immigration reform. That afternoon, Bishop John C. Wester of the catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City was to visit the fasters.

Sister Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who heads Network, said immigration reform will benefit the "100 percent."

"Our message to Congress is clear," she said at the news conference. "Vote for immigration reform with a pathway to earned citizenship that protects family unity. And do it now!"

Besides Network, groups sponsoring the fast include Church World Service, Faith in Public Life, the PICO Network, the Service Employees International Union, the Alliance for Citizenship, Sojourners and Franciscan Action Network.

Long-term fasters have committed to fasting from food every day and night on the front steps of the Capitol building. The fasters will be able to drink water, and will continue fasting until they are told to stop by medical professionals.

The fasters include the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Lucy Tzunun, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon and Jong Sang Hyung, who was to begin his fast Nov. 15.

Those who are fasting said they hope their efforts will help more than 11 million people achieve their dream of becoming American citizens, as well as keep from them from being deported and separated from their families.

Rev. Rodriguez, who is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the fast aligns with the spirit of leaders who have acted on a "moral imperative to do justice" to others such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and ultimately, Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network, agreed that Gandhi, Rev. King and migrant labor leader Cesar Chavez would be standing alongside fasters at the Capitol if they were living today. She read to the audience, quoting Rev. King's "Letter from the Birmingham Jail."

"They are the architects of the nonviolent movement," said Rev. Williams-Skinner. "They are the champions of justice and would be here, because injustice is here."

The minister, along with many others, wore a cross made of sticks, hung around her neck.

"It represents the sacrifices that Jesus Christ made for us," she said of the cross. "This is a reminder that the price for human solidarity against evil has already been paid."

Rev. Williams-Skinner said each day, more than 1,000 immigrants are deported from the United States and separated from their family members. She said some political leaders also fear the changes in the racial landscape of the U.S.

"Every American came from somewhere other than America. ... No American family should be torn apart," she said.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, said the act of fasting is "neither a tactic nor a symbol."

"This is not a political issue, it's a moral issue," he said. "(It is) a fast against political dysfunction that keeps our country from moving forward."