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Delivering on the dream: Protecting immigrant rights and fostering a culture of inclusion

Virginia Mosqueda

Cynthia Buiza, Guest contributor from California Immigrant Policy Center

Lessons for the Field

Immigrants and refugees have always played a vital role in California’s success. Their contribution to our state’s economy, cultural fabric, and more are invaluable. The pandemic has underscored just how integral immigrants are to California and our nation, as many of them perform essential work crucial to our recovery from this crisis.

Unfortunately, immigrant communities have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s painful and devastating fallout. Although many are risking lives working in essential jobs – in health care, grocery stores, pharmacies, and agriculture – many immigrants and their families have been excluded from emergency relief.

COVID-19 is the latest crisis in a long list of challenges impacting immigrant communities, particularly since 2016, when federal immigration policies shifted dramatically, subjecting immigrants to discrimination and threatening their wellbeing. In response to that, many California funders, including The James Irvine Foundation, mobilized with an unprecedented surge of rapid-response grantmaking to support organizations working on the front lines to defend and protect immigrant rights.

To better understand the effect of rapid-response grantmaking and the current landscape for immigrant integration in California, Irvine commissioned the brief, “Delivering on the Dream: Protecting Immigrant Rights and Fostering a Culture of Inclusion.” The authors, Engage R&D, explore how California foundations are shifting their strategies and contributing to a more robust pro-immigrant movement.

This brief was written before the pandemic, but it offers timely, actionable insights for philanthropy and immigrant-serving organizations as they pivot from crisis-response to more proactive and longer-term strategies for immigrant integration. The brief is based on an evaluation of Irvine’s Protecting Immigrant Rights efforts and interviews with 12 foundations and immigrant rights organizations.

Meeting the Crisis Head On

When funders pivoted in 2016 to support organizations on the frontlines to cope with the immigration crisis, rapid-response grantmaking helped organizations remain resilient and continue their critical work on the ground. Immigrant rights groups tackled an onslaught of attacks on immigrant communities. The funding helped groups work in coalition for coordinated efforts to ensure immigrants and their families had access to healthcare, workplace protections, and vital information for undocumented immigrants facing deportation, among other key services and advocacies.

Yet rapid-response funding also posed challenges. Several California funders noted that rapid-response grants often support direct services rather than activities that foster a longer-term, pro-immigrant agenda. A recent analysis of post-2016 immigration-related grantmaking by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) revealed the vast majority of funding went to legal services.

“While these resources undoubtedly helped individuals facing detention and deportation, relatively little funding has supported the ‘long game’ of movement and power building.”

With these and other challenges in mind, the brief offers important considerations for future funding including:

  • Provide multi-year, flexible funding to support organizing capacity and power-building infrastructure: Groups need the support to achieve their long-term visions, not just respond to crises, and crisis funding shouldn’t replace core support. Before the 2016 crisis, core investments supported immigrant rights organizations in establishing strong foundations that helped them cope with challenging and uncertain dynamics and allowed them to pivot when needed.
  • Join forces to provide leadership and leverage funding with a clear vision for the long game: Starting in early 2017, Irvine convened foundations to work together and align funding and resources around critical issues such as DACA, public charge, research, and communications to underscore the role and value of immigrants and fight back against ugly, anti-immigrant narratives. We were heartened to see this type of collaboration, which is relatively new to this space, and we hope it serves as a model moving forward.

Having worked in the immigrant rights space collectively for 40 years, we found the learnings in this brief a helpful guide in a unique, historic moment that is ripe for social change and lasting transformation. We hope these insights are also helpful to other funders and immigrant-serving organizations as we continue efforts to build inclusive communities where immigrant families can thrive.