Muslim to head city’s immigrant advancement office

Vali previously worked at Islamic Society of Boston

BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH appointed Yusufi Vali, the executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, as the head of the city’s Office for Immigrant Advancement.

Vali, who immigrated with his parents to Kansas City from India when he was nine, will report to Marty Martinez, the chief of the city’s Health and Human Services office.

“You have a white mayor, a Latino chief, and a Muslim director working on immigration together,” Vali said. “I think the mayor is sending a clear message to Boston and the nation that we’re not letting the fearful rhetoric coming from up top bully us. We’re going to work across ethnic, faith, gender, racial lines.”

Vali replaces Alejandra St. Guillen, who left in December to run for a city council-at-large seat. During her tenure, the office grew from five to eight people, including some grant funded positions. The office provides funding for English as a Second Language programming, legal clinics, citizenship application assistance, youth mentoring, and civic engagement classes.

Noting Vali launched City Hall’s first Iftar, a community meal shared by Muslims, St. Guillen said Vali is a good fit for the post. “The fact that he’s a collaborator, really smart, has been in the community – he’s someone people can trust,” she said.

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center consists of a mosque and community center that services over 1,500 congregants of 64 ethnicities, most of whom are immigrants. “He has a strong record of fighting for immigrant and vulnerable communities, and I am looking forward to seeing him succeed in this role,” Walsh said.

Prior to joining the cultural center in 2012, Vali was a community organizer for the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization where he advocated for education and health care access for low-income families. The 36-year-old has been a Fulbright Scholar, a Marshall Scholar, and a Barr fellow. He holds two master’s degrees, including one from the London School of Economics, and a bachelor’s from Princeton. He currently lives in Roslindale with his wife.

After the Boston Marathon bombing by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Vali offered to assist authorities. “This city post-Marathon could have turned on its Muslims, but instead it turned to its Muslim community,” he said.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

One idea he wants to pursue is starting a program for immigrant taxi drivers who have advanced degrees from their home countries. “There are taxi drivers who have PhDs and doctorates. Let’s create a certification program to get them to becoming doctors again sooner or later,” he said.

Vali said he wants to continue work on the “Trust Act,” an ordinance supported by Mayor Marty Walsh and city councilors that would attempt to clarify the role of the Boston Police Department in relation to federal immigration law.