When Dan Zimerman laces up his shoes at 5 a.m. on Aug. 9, he will set out on a nearly 24-hour birthday mission across state lines. On his 54th birthday, the Montclair, New Jersey, resident will run more than 100 miles from Ellis Island to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to advocate for immigrants’ rights.
“Given what’s going on at the border and the conditions of government-run detention facilities, children being traumatized at detention centers, inaction by Congress is an exacerbating situation,” Zimerman said. “I thought we could connect the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island’s immigration story with the founding of the nation at Constitution Hall and the Liberty Bell. It has a nice conceptual arc to it.”
Zimerman’s goal is to raise $5,000 for the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which is "dedicated to expanding and enforcing the civil liberties and civil rights of immigrants and to combating public and private discrimination against them," according to the ACLU website. One of the issues the project works on is immigrant detention.
He has so far raised more than $1,944 for the project and has a $5,000 goal.
For Zimerman, the reported issues at immigrant detention facilities and the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is personal. Members of his family left Poland right before World War I and Austria during World War II. He grew up in Chile and Canada before moving to New Jersey about 10 years ago.
“The whole immigrant experience is near and dear,” he said. “It’s about showing open arms in a land of refuge and possibility.”
Zimerman, an advertising creative director, only started running about five years ago, but he has participated in several 100-mile races in New York City and runs an average of 30 to 50 miles per week. Taking on this latest challenge simply requires training your body to adapt, he said.
“It sounds like a lot of miles, but if someone is healthy and doesn’t have chronic injuries, anybody can do this distance,” he said. “It’s not will I be able to finish it. It’s approaching it realistically and strategically so you don’t overexert yourself at the beginning and injure yourself 30 miles in.”
To make sure he stays healthy, two of his friends will drive along the route and stop every so often to provide him with water and food. He does not plan to stop for rest until he crosses the finish line in Philadelphia.
At least 10 people have already told Zimerman they plan to join him for part of his “liberty run,” and he hopes more will run with him, as well as donate to the ACLU online by searching for “Liberty 100 Mile Run for Immigrants’ Rights.” He will post the final route on his Instagram account (@dzimerman) in the coming weeks.
At the end of the day, he said, the best gift people can give him for his birthday or for his run is to help support the cause.
“If you’re feeling that something in society doesn’t align with your values and doesn’t reflect … how you want society to move forward, then do what you can,” he said. “I can run. This is what I know how to do and I do it well. … We can do this and so much more.”