Our Theory of Change
Many in our community feel at home in the Berkshires. It can be, as one of our leaders once described, “like living in a Norman Rockwell painting,” spending time in tiny towns of rosy, smiling faces and never questioning that you belong.
However, not all residents of our county are painted on that iconic canvas. Our friends from the growing immigrant, Latino, and Spanish-speaking communities are increasingly left at the margins.
Through relationship building in these communities, we’ve learned that a major barrier is our broken immigration system.
When an immigrant is summoned to appear in court, the summons that they receive is in English. They must make their way to the nearest immigration court, which is in Hartford, CT. As many in the undocumented community lack drivers licenses, reliable transportation, or jobs that allow them to ask for time off at a moment’s notice, appearing in court is either an expensive or impossible task.
Others are registered in an intensive supervision program, which requires them to wear large black GPS ankle bracelets. These ankle bracelets restrict travel and will shriek when the wearer leaves the allowed radius, or when the device reaches the end of its short battery life. A shrieking ankle bracelet demands an immediate trip to check in at the program office in Hartford.
An immigrant in the program may also receive home visits by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer, requiring them to spend a full day at home, once a week, awaiting a knock at the door.
These are only some of the many challenges faced by the undocumented community as they struggle to live fully and with dignity in the Berkshires. An opaque system, combined with heightened anti-immigrant sentiment and policies spreading in our nation, has resulted in many of our immigrant and Latino neighbors living in fear and isolation.
Our goal is to fight this trend by empowering leaders within the Latino and immigrant community, as well as our leaders with American citizenship, to speak up and make systemic change.
Our Current Work
Today, we’re working on immigrant justice in two major ways.
One is the creation of the Berkshire Sanctuary Network, a network of congregations who will shelter an undocumented immigrant facing an unjust deportation and buy them time to find a legal remedy and secure legal status. We currently have seven Level 2 congregations, who are committed to supporting a future Level 1 congregation where the immigrant would actually live.
The second is the BIO Accompaniment Program, which launched in March 2019. We’ve trained over 75 volunteers to travel with an undocumented immigrant to their ICE check-ins to provide moral support, bear public witness to their interactions with law enforcement, and assist in case an emergency arises during the check-in.
Through all of this work, we’ve connected deeply with our immigrant partners. Despite the language barrier, we understand that we share a strong commitment to justice, and love and concern for each other’s safety and wellbeing.
We are committed to bringing our immigrant community into relationship with the entire community, and fighting together for systemic change.
Empowering our immigrant community to grow, thrive, and take on leadership is one of the most meaningful ways to stand in our faith and strengthen our collective future.
The Berkshire Sanctuary Network
We deeply thank the seven covenanted congregations that have united to form the Berkshire Sanctuary Network!
First Church of Christ on Park Square, Pittsfield
First Congregational Church Williamstown
Lee Congregational Church, Lee
South Congregational Church, Pittsfield
St. John's Episcopal Church, Williamstown
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Pittsfield
Unitarian Universalist Church, Pittsfield