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Waiting to Post Bond, I Pray in the Heart of Darkness

Waiting to Post Bond, I Pray in the Heart of Darkness

The author, Rabbi Josh Stanton, waiting at ICE, to post bond

First, I opened a separate bank account.

Then, I received the name of the “friend” from the New Sanctuary Coalition, for whom I would be posting bond, so that he could be released from an immigrant detention center.

Then, New Sanctuary Coalition wired me the funds in the amount of the bond.

Then, from the bank check, I had a check made out to the Department of Homeland Security (and triple-checked the spelling, lest I cause it to be invalid).

Then, I walked with it and the requisite paperwork into the heart of darkness – 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan.

Then, I set a person free.

For those who have been to ICE headquarters in Manhattan, you understand what I mean when I say that Kafka could not have envisioned a worse system.

Security guards ignore the needs of people with disabilities. Waiting rooms blare with Fox News (and frequent anti-immigrant rants therein). Without warning, clerks change the layout and format of required forms, forcing many people to go home, only to return and try again another day. Detainees receive conflicting paperwork or permission to receive bond. Officials scream at people who do not share my (lack of) accent in spoken English or skin color. After presenting identification, forms, and a check, I am left to sit and wait – and bear witness to it all.

Sitting and waiting, I feel the darkness permeate me. Sometimes I worry that I might never come out. But my U.S. passport, kippah (yarmulke), and tallit (prayer shawl) provide enough cover to ensure that I will not be swept up in the system. They are my shields and symbols of power in a structure that systematically abuses those without power. I am among the dozens of clergy in New York City who use the privilege I do not deserve to get immigrants out of jail through legal means.

Going again and again to Federal Plaza has turned this painful, disheartening task into something of a spiritual practice. On some level, we all know that this darkness exists right now in our society. Bearing witness to it makes it less scary; countering it, even for just one person makes me feel less complicit in a system that I support with my tax dollars.

There is nothing quite like praying in the heart of darkness. But amid the pain, it is often what I am left to do.

Leaders from the New Sanctuary Coalition, who coordinate this effort to post bond for immigrants, told me that it was important to do and could change a person’s life. I accepted their charge, perhaps out of a morbid curiosity and desire to see firsthand just how broken our immigration system is. But after being introduced to one of the “friends” I bonded out and hearing his story, I have gone back again and again.

Going is part vidui – confessional. It is part hineni – humbling of oneself before the community. It is part messianic hope. It is part Mi Shebeirach prayer for those who are ill. It is part Kaddish for those who have died – or will die.

Many of the other clergy who have posted bond feel similarly, even if they use different religious language to describe their prayers.

If we can pray there, we can pray anywhere. Please join us in the heart of darkness.

For information about how you can support efforts to stop the inhumane system of deportations and detentions in this country, visit New Sanctuary Coalition. To learn more about the Reform Jewish community's immigration work, visit the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus Initiative Immigrant and Refugee Justice Action Center.

Rabbi Joshua Stanton is the spiritual co-leader at East End Temple in New York, NY.

Rabbi Joshua Stanton
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