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Standing up to divisiveness, providing aid for immigrant families

Photo by Elias Castillo

Leaders from all quarters of our state and nation are standing up to racist and divisive rhetoric that seeks to divide America for political purposes. We stand with them.

“Send them back” – and other jeers and taunts – do not belong in our civic dialogue. These words are polarizing, traumatic, and dangerous.

These tactics divide us – and tear at the fabric of our country, woven from the many waves of newcomers who, while bringing diverse experiences, perspectives, and cultures, seek freedom and the American dream of a better life for their families.

Unfortunately, fear and vilification of immigrants have a long history in our country. Like most of you, my family came to the U.S. in search of the American Dream. I vividly recall my mother recounting stories of being ostracized and bullied, as a first-generation Italian immigrant in New York, including being told to “go back to where you came from.” I will not hear “go back” like my family once did, and for that very reason I feel compelled to speak out when newcomers to America are ostracized and threatened.

California can pave the way for national healing in the years ahead. Our state confronted, and overcame, anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1990s; we now have some of the most effective immigrant integration policies in America. Our civic leaders, community volunteers, and nonprofit organizations work tirelessly to assist newcomers to the U.S. because we are an inclusive and welcoming state.

At the Irvine Foundation, we’re grateful to be able to help by funding those working to heal and support our immigrant families and communities. Earlier this month Irvine’s Board of Directors approved $1.3 million in new funding to support California organizations (see below) providing rapid-response shelters and greater oversight of detention facilities to protect, defend, and reunite families who are separated and imprisoned for seeking refuge in the U.S. (In 2018, we gave $1 million to reunite families at the border). These funds are in addition to our ongoing grantmaking to Protecting Immigrant Rights – $ 7.3 million in 2019 – as well as our long history of funding efforts that enable immigrants to integrate effectively into their communities.

Photo by Talking Eyes Media

The worsening border crisis is an affront to basic human rights and California’s values of inclusion and dignity for all its residents. Whatever you think of our asylum and immigration systems, it is wrong to vilify families and children who came to the U.S. in search of safety and a better life. The inhumane conditions families are enduring will have lasting, painful consequences for them and for our country. But we are confident that the work of our grantees, along with so many others working in common cause, is making our state stronger, safer, and more prosperous.

We are also looking ahead to what will be needed to recover from this ugly period. We are working with other foundations, assisted by the Institute for the Future and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, to think through different scenarios for the future of immigration in California. In addition to responding to the crisis at hand, we need to invest in proactive efforts that address the underlying dysfunctions that cause these divisions.

We look forward to working with those who seek to reunite us around our historic American values of inclusion, refuge, and diversity.

Far more resources will be needed. If you are a funder and would like to join us, please email me: .

The full list of the most recent board-approved grants includes:

Freedom for Immigrants

A one-year grant of $300,000 to expand immigrant detention monitoring and support service, including bonds to assist immigrant families in detention in California.

Immigrant Defenders Law Center

A two-year grant of $250,000 to provide legal services and other support services to immigrant families in federal custody in California.

Inland Congregations United for Change Sponsoring Committee, Inc.

A one-year grant of $250,000 to provide rapid-response shelter capacity and advocacy to asylum seekers, through an entity such as the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

Jewish Family Service of San Diego

A one-year of $150,000 to provide mental health and basic needs services to low-income immigrants in San Diego.

National Center for Youth Law

A one-year grant of $100,000 to expand oversight, policy awareness, and legal protections of immigrant children in federal custody in California.

Regents of the University of California

A two-year grant of $250,000 to the UC Davis Immigration Clinic to expand oversight, policy awareness, and legal protections of immigrant children and families in federal custody in California.