On October 20, I will run the Around Cape Ann Half Marathon, the longest racing distance in my running thus far. As I train for this personal accomplishment, I intend to use it as an opportunity to make our world more just and whole. Before I run 13.1 miles next month, I strive to raise $1,310 (matching 13.1 miles) for the Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN), an organization that assists with posting bond and securing legal representation for immigrants detained in South Boston.
Administered by Episcopal City Mission, BIJAN is an interfaith coalition that raises money to protect immigrant communities in Massachusetts. The South Bay Detention Center in Boston holds more than 1,000 immigrants per year, ranking among the highest capacity immigration prisons in the United States. Although posting bond significantly increases the chances of remaining with one's family in the US, bonds typically range from $1,500 to $14,000. BIJAN coordinates with faith communities throughout the area to post bond and/or pay legal fees for detainees. With the Network’s assistance, immigrants no longer choose between imprisonment and bankruptcy.
This issue matters to me on moral, historical, and personal grounds. The Torah not only commands that we love our neighbors but also dictates that we must welcome, love, and help the stranger. Appearing in Torah on 36 occasions, this commandment seems central to Jewish ethics. Jewish texts often prove nebulous, but Torah makes one mandate very clear– a righteous community is a diverse sanctuary in which all people may live and thrive.
Moreover, Jews know what it means to live as strangers. When my great-grandparents emigrated to the United States, they fled conditions that foreboded torture and death. They were among those fortunate enough to overcome a restrictive quota system, yet even in the US, they found themselves amidst education and housing restrictions and widespread prejudice. Four generations ago, my family perservered to actualize the United States’ guarantee of equal rights and opportunities. As a by-product of that multi-generational struggle, I refuse to offer the same tepid welcome to people fleeing fear and violence abroad.
More recently, I learned precisely how immigrants make our communities more vibrant and whole. My sister taught for 3 years in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a community where many immigrants live. Whenever I called her, she told me about the progress her students made in reading and arithmetic, about their hopes for their American futures, about the delicious meals and interesting traditions they shared with the class, and (much to my amusement) about the hilarious little kid jokes that seem to cross national borders. However, without knowing any student’s individual immigration status, she saw how the election of Donald Trump brought substantial trauma and fear into the community. I imagined the joy of childhood extinguished by fears of losing a parent, living in prison, or returning to a home deemed unsafe, and it broke my heart.
By running for BIJAN this autumn, I want to do what I can to welcome and support immigrant communities across the Boston area. Last year, BIJAN collected over $200,000 to post bond for 50 people and assist with the legal fees for many more. By raising $1,310 in the next five weeks, we will resist the agenda of detainment, dehumanization, and deportation. To borrow a cliché from the running world, we find ourselves at the starting line today, but together, we will make progress in strides.