President Barack Obama paid a visit Friday to hunger strikers calling for immigration reform, who are camped out on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, the president stopped by the grassy esplanade several hundred yards from the White House, in a trip that was not mentioned in his official daily agenda.
"The president and the first lady are visiting individuals taking part in 'Fast For Families' on the National Mall and offer their support for those who are fasting on behalf of immigration reform," said a White House official who asked for anonymity.
Journalists accompanying the couple were kept at a distance.
Since Nov. 12, the immigrant rights activists, who have set up a tent a stone's throw from the Capitol, have been on a hunger strike, urging the House of Representatives to vote for an immigration reform measure already approved by the Senate.
The reform, which would bring one of Obama's major 2008 and 2012 presidential campaign promises to fruition, was adopted by the Senate, dominated by Obama's Democratic allies, on June 27.
The Senate plan, crafted and approved with Republican support, would give some 11 million people living illegally in the country U.S. citizenship under strict conditions and after a minimum 13-year transitional period.
It would also strengthen the border with Mexico and reorganize the visa system to give priority to high-demand fields, including engineers and farm workers.
House Speaker John Boehner recently said he was willing to have the House consider such a measure, but in a piece-by-piece manner.
It's an approach that Obama, speaking in San Francisco Monday, said would work "as long as all the pieces get done."
In the House of Representatives, Republicans hold the majority, and are more hostile toward what some conservative critics see as "amnesty" for the millions of foreigners living illegally in the United States.
Boehner and his Republican Party are under heavy pressure ahead of 2016 presidential elections to improve their standing among Hispanic voters for whom immigration is a cherished political goal.
In 2012, 71 percent of Latino voters cast their ballot for Obama over his Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
© AFP 2014